A few months ago, a guy with a needle and syringe poked a tiny hole in my left shoulder to vaccinate me against COVID-19 and its various and voracious variants. It was a Saturday morning, and I sat in an office upstairs at the Parker County Courthouse along with many other two-legged pin cushions. We filled out paperwork and waited in line for the privilege of receiving a free vaccine.
I was glad to get it.
People in many poor countries would give their left, er, shoulder to get a free vaccination. Here in America, however, some people are suspicious of vaccines. After a while, it took bribes of money, prizes and delicacies to entice people to be vaccinated.
I received my vaccination early and missed out on all the promises of free donuts. That’s OK. Avoiding death was enticement enough for me.
After receiving my first shot, I was handed a vaccine card that included the date. The Moderna vaccine required a second shot in four weeks. I returned to the courthouse at the appropriate time, and the needle pusher asked for my vaccine card. I handed it to him, and he recorded the second date.
After being fully vaccinated, I was encouraged to hang on to my card. OfficeMax near Interstate 20 would laminate a copy for free.
“You can keep the laminated copy in your wallet and put the original card in a filing cabinet or somewhere safe,” the vaccinator told me.
“Yes, sir,” I said.
When I returned to my vehicle, I placed the vaccine card in the messy passenger seat of my car. While not technically a safe place, I figured I would notice the card sitting there on Monday and be reminded to go to OfficeMax for a laminate.
That night, however, I went out on the town, and somebody needed to sit in the passenger seat, and so I moved everything, including the vaccine card, to the back seat. Later, I moved everything back to the front seat. Later still, I have a vague memory of throwing away a couple of things that looked like trash.
My vaccination card must have gone out with the trash. I don't know. I never saw it again. I wasn’t concerned. The card has served no purpose that I’m aware of. Nobody has asked to see it.
Proof of vaccination is required in some situations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people delay traveling until being vaccinated. Airlines don’t require proof of vaccination for domestic flights, but proof is required to enter some countries. Colleges have required proof of vaccines to enroll in classes. Sporting venues have requested proof.
None of these things had affected me personally. Still, my natural curiosity — I am a reporter, after all — made me wonder how difficult it would be to replace my card.
I googled, “What to do if I lose my vaccine card?”
Numerous links appeared. One of the first included the headline, “Here’s what you should do if you lose your COVID-19 vaccination card.”
The story assured me that losing my card is “not the end of the world.”
Whew! I’m not concerned about my card but might lose sleep if the world were to end.
The site suggested I call a 1-800 number or submit a form on the Texas Department of State Health Services website. I called the number and received a message machine asking me to leave a detailed message. I sensed a long bureaucratic run-around to nowhere and hung up.
I scrolled to another link that suggested the provider who gave me the shot could replace the card. My provider had been a local pharmacy setting up shop inside the courthouse, but I couldn’t remember which pharmacy.
I scrolled to another link that suggested calling my local county health department. I googled Parker County Health Department but couldn’t find the site. Another county site popped up that included a phone number. I gave it a call.
“This is Peggy in permitting,” a woman said. “May I help you?”
“Is this the health department?”
“This is the permitting department for septic systems,” she said.
“Oh my God, I’m way off,” I said.
“Parker County doesn’t have a health department,” she said. “There is one in Palo Pinto County. I can give you their phone number if you’d like.”
I explained how I’d lost my card but couldn’t remember who my vaccine provider was.
“You might call the Parker County Hospital District,” she said. “They did immunizations.”
She gave me a number, and I called. After maneuvering through a recorded phone message, I was transferred to a live person named Kirsti.
“Parker County Hospital District — can I help you?” she said.
I explained I’d lost my vaccine card.
The hospital district didn’t have replacement cards but could provide the equivalent documentation via email or printout, she said.
“It’s all the same information, it’s just not in a card form,” she said.
I told her that was fine.
She asked for my name and date of birth. I heard her clicking away on a keyboard.
She asked me to repeat my birthday.
Spell my last name.
She asked for my address. More clicking and pausing.
“Do you remember when you got the vaccines?” she asked.
Two or three months ago, I said.
“Jeff, what is a good phone number for you?”
I gave her my number.
“Give me just a second,” she said. “I have to go over there and look and see if I can find your paperwork, and I will get back to you as soon as I can get that record.”
Kirsti could find no record of my shots. I began telling her about going to the courthouse on a Saturday morning for the shots, when she stopped me. The Hospital District had given immunizations at two locales, but neither was at the courthouse. Kirsti suggested I contact the group that gave vaccines at the courthouse to find my records.
Their name escaped me, I said.
Kirsti said the county clerk might know since it was done on county property and provided the phone number. Before hanging up, I asked Kirsti whether all the various groups providing vaccines were filing the info at a central location.
“Every organization has their own consent record and what they ask for on their consent paperwork,” she said. “A lot of it is generally the same, but each organization houses their own intake forms. Most everybody that was giving the vaccines was putting it back in the ImmTrac data system, which is the Texas immunization history. I went to look for it for you, but I didn’t see it in there, so I’m not sure if they weren’t doing that or what their process was.”
I thanked her and hung up.
I googled “ImmTrac.” The immunization registry was established in 1999 to store vaccine records in Texas, mostly for children. The general public has no direct access, and it’s up to school and healthcare officials to enter and access the information. The Texas Department of State Health Services tracks these immunizations, but its own website says the best place to find COVID-19 records is at the clinic that administered the vaccine.
This patchwork effort by Texas officials to track vaccines appears to be hampered by residents’ tendency to protect their privacy. An image pops into my head of some old Texas guy with a gray goatee and cowboy hat saying, “My vaccinations and swollen prostate ain’t nobody’s bidness but my own!” (Now that I think about it, that old guy looked a lot like me.)
If the states were struggling to track vaccines, surely the feds were doing even worse. I googled, “Is there a central covid vaccine database?” That led to a story in The Wall Street Journal saying the United States lacks a central database due to privacy concerns, which leaves “non-standardized impermanent cards as the sole record of shots.”
I was still reading when my phone rang. It was Kirsti again calling to say she’d learned that Davis City Pharmacy had been providing vaccines at the courthouse. She even provided the phone number. (Kirsti rocks again!)
I called Davis City Pharmacy, and a woman named Hannah looked up my information in a matter of seconds and told me to stop by the pharmacy at my convenience to pick up my replacement card. The entire conversation took a minute.
Minutes later, I drove to Davis City and received my replacement card free of charge.
Bottom line: If you lose your vaccine card, contact the organization that provided your shots. They should replace your card easily enough.
P.S. If you forget your provider and have to call around town to a few places, you might stumble across people as friendly and competent as Peggy, Kirsti and Hannah and feel better about the world when you’re done.