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Fake vaccine cards a tricky issue for Bucs, NFL to tackle

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TAMPA, Fla. — Their sprawling staff includes physicians and football researchers, scouts and salespersons, marketers and maintenance technicians.

During the pandemic, the Bucs’ bloated personnel directory only has grown. Scour it closely, and you’ll also come upon “infection control officer.” Greg Skaggs, also the team’s director of athlete performance, helped set up COVID-19 protocols and implement the team’s Infectious Disease Emergency Response plan, among other duties.

But the extent of his role as vaccination card validator remains unclear. Fact is, few entities — in football, federal government or otherwise — seem equipped for such a task.

Just as the COVID-19 vaccines remain in their infancy stage, so too is the cottage industry of fraudulent vaccine cards. While a handful of states (including New York) have smartphone apps that provide digital proof of vaccination, most continue relying on the flimsy paper cards — easy to bend, tear or misplace — people receive upon being vaccinated.

“It’s very easy to fake,” Dr. Robert Quigley, senior vice president and global medical director at International SOS, told “It doesn’t require rocket science to replicate.”

The cards are identifiable in part by two logos — the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — in the upper right-hand corner. Creating, using and/or selling fake cards is a felony subject to fines and up to five years in prison.

On Thursday, the Tampa Bay Times reported in detail about the former live-in chef of Antonio Brown accusing the Bucs receiver of using a fake vaccine card. In New York City, dozens of sanitation workers recently were suspended pending an inquiry into the use of fakes.

Evander Kane of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks recently was suspended 21 games for having a fake vaccination card. In August, a Florida couple was arrested after authorities said they entered Hawaii using fake cards to avoid a mandatory quarantine.

For now, the NFL is putting the onus on its teams in any attempts to thwart a similar scandal.

NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said teams are responsible for verifying personnel and player vaccination status. Players are supposed to present the cards to club medical staff or the infection control officer.

In a statement released Thursday night, the Bucs — who routinely have offered onsite vaccinations to players, staff and their families — indicated all cards were “reviewed by Buccaneers personnel and no irregularities were observed.”

On Friday, the Bucs declined to provide specifics on their card-checking process. When asked if he had any reason to believe Brown produced a fake card, coach Bruce Arians said, “None whatsoever.”

“We did our due diligence, the league will do theirs and the statement says everything,” Arians added. “Really, I don’t think it’s a story. It has nothing to do with the Giants game (Monday night).”

While the extent of the Bucs’ diligence remains unclear, taking measures to validate vaccination beyond examining a card is possible.

If Brown was vaccinated somewhere in Florida other than Bucs headquarters and wanted to offer further proof of his vaccination, the process is simple, state health department officials say.

Anyone vaccinated in Florida can call their doctor and request their records through Florida Shots, a database containing vaccination records for flu shots, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), polio, COVID-19 and others. Information about what is stored in the database and how someone can obtain their shot record is provided at the Florida Shots website.

Tom Iovino, public information officer for the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, said those vaccinated through CDR Maguire (the company that ran the high-volume vaccine clinics in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties) can go to this site and check the account they had to set up to reserve an appointment for a vaccine.

This system will show the date of the vaccination and the type of vaccine received, Iovino added.

Employers wishing to verify employees’ vaccination status aren’t privy to the data.

“We provide proof of immunization to the person the record belongs to,” Kevin Watler, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County, said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. “We wouldn’t give the record to an employer.”

Kosher or counterfeit?

A few ways to detect whether a COVID-19 vaccination card could be a fake:

1. Cross-check the date of the person’s (alleged) innoculation with the date that specific vaccine was approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

2. A fully-printed card could be a red flag; many vaccine providers fill in a patient’s information by hand.

3. Dr. T. Tashof Bernton, an internal and preventative medicine physician at Colorado Rehabilitation and Occupational Medicine, says since the two doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are distributed weeks apart, the shots are often administered by different people. Be cautious if the handwriting for both fields is the same, Bernton adds.


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