Best of the States


AP finds colleges concerned as some students turn to counterfeit vaccine cards

This undated photo provided by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control shows a fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination card. A Northern California bar owner was arrested on suspicion of selling fake COVID-19 vaccination cards to several undercover state agents for $20 each. After receiving a tip, undercover agents with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control went to Old Corner Saloon in the city of Clements several times in April and bought fake laminated vaccination cards, officials said. (California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control via AP)


It started with a tip.

When a college student mentioned that fellow unvaccinated students were getting fake COVID-19 vaccine cards in order to attend in-person classes, AP global investigations intern Roselyn Romero remembered that she’d seen an account on Instagram offering fake cards for $25 each.

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Confiscated fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards and a lamination machine. – California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control via AP

Romero, whose internship has been funded by the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, began searching social media platforms, encrypted messaging apps and the dark web for other examples. She also spoke with students, faculty and administrators. What she found was a cottage industry offering to accommodate people who refuse to get vaccinated but need documentation saying that they’ve had the shots. In interviews with college officials, she learned that although many schools said they had a system in place to verify the authenticity of vaccine cards, most admitted that a foolproof system is impossible.

Her deeply reported story had nearly 250,000 pageviews on AP News and was used by hundreds of news outlets,including online and print front pages. Local TV stations used the AP story to do their own local versions. USA Today ran its own story,borrowing heavily from AP’s piece and crediting Romero. She was also interviewed about the story, including an appearance on NPR’s “All Things Considered” to discuss her findings.

In response to Romero’s reporting,Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called for a multiagency crackdown on the counterfeit cards and a campaign to make clear that forging the cards could land people in federal prison.

For having a major national impact with her first AP byline, Roselyn Romero wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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