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States don't know who is vaccinated when records don't cross state lines

State vaccination levels may be off several percentage points if jurisdictions aren't sharing vaccination records across state lines.

WASHINGTON — CDC vaccination cards are becoming passports of sorts for being able to enter a workplace, a theater, or an international flight. However, the state records backing up these cards may be incomplete, due to vaccination records not being shared across state lines, creating problems in tracking the fight against COVID-19. 

When someone gets vaccinated in a state outside where they live, the record may not be recorded in their state's records. 

Take WUSA9 reporter Nathan Baca's vaccination card from Maryland, for example. His official CDC card shows two Moderna vaccines written down. But according to his home state of Maryland, he is only partially vaccinated. 

If someone received their first shot in Maryland, and the second one in Virginia, those two vaccine records do not cross state lines.

“The Maryland Department of Health is not able to obtain records of Marylanders who were vaccinated in other states," Maryland spokesperson Charles Gischlar said. "It is not possible for individuals to submit their records to the Maryland Department of Health.”

Credit: Becca Knier
CDC vaccination card

There are two major impacts these potentially incomplete vaccination records can have. First, you need a complete COVID-19 vaccination record if you ever need to replace a lost or damaged CDC card. The second factor has to do with the state's ability to track data. 

“The data is critical to ensure that the state continues to lead with the equitable administration of life-saving vaccines throughout the state," Gischlar said. 

D.C. also says it does not receive reports from other states. If you check your record and notice something missing, DC Health’s solution is for people to ask the clinics they got their vaccinations at to update any missing records.

D.C., Maryland, West Virginia, and six other states make people’s vaccination records available through the “MyIR Mobile” website run by “STChealth.”

Credit: WUSA9
Map showing states on the MyIR vaccine records system

Virginia keeps its own records – one must call or email and wait for a response from the commonwealth’s health department.

“We really want to get the vaccine to where the people are and knowing who has been vaccinated across Virginia and all the different areas in the geographic region really helps us make those better decisions," said Virginia Immunization Director Christy Gray.

D.C.’s health director, Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, said while D.C. has no plans to mandate vaccines, she says even if it wanted to, the lack of cross-state info prevents it.

"That’s the problem with the suggestion that you would have a vaccine passport or requirement for vaccination mandated by the government at the city level for access to services, events communities out in the community," Nesbitt said. "We know, and we have always known, that we have a substantial number of D.C. residents who have received doses of the COVID-19 vaccine outside of the District government or from a federal entity that may or may not be in D.C. city limits."

Nesbitt added that some localities have stronger data sharing processes than others. 

"We have been able to work with many of those entities to get aggregate level data, but we often lack the identifying information that is necessary for us to validate the resident status in our immunization information system," she said. "That sharing is better with some jurisdictions than others and if they don’t share that record with us through an electronic exchange, I can’t validate that you were vaccinated in Florida even though you’re a D.C. resident.”

When asked, nobody could definitely say how many people’s online vaccination records compiled by the states are incomplete because it isn’t being tracked. The Washington metro area is unique because it falls across multiple state lines.

WUSA9 also reached out to neighboring Pennsylvania. Like D.C., it has two metro areas, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, with people crossing state lines to get vaccinated. It reports 7.6% of all vaccinations given in that state were from people coming from other states.

The DMV region health departments didn’t give a timeline on when the vaccine record sharing will begin. Virginia just started a pilot program to share that info with Tennessee, but not currently with D.C. or Maryland. 

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