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

For now, the league is putting the onus of validating vaccination cards on its teams.
The former live-in chef of Bucs receiver Antonio Brown has accused him of obtaining a fake vaccination card.
The former live-in chef of Bucs receiver Antonio Brown has accused him of obtaining a fake vaccination card. [ MATT ROURKE | Associated Press ]
Published Nov. 19
Updated Nov. 20

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

During the pandemic, the Bucs’ bloated personnel directory has only 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 coronavirus protocols and implement the Bucs’ Infectious Disease Emergency Response plan, among other duties.

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

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

“It’s very easy to fake,” Robert Quigley, senior vice president and global medical director at International SOS, a health and security services firm, 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 wide receiver of using a fake card. Browns’ lawyer has said the receiver is vaccinated.

Evander Kane of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks was suspended 21 games last month for having a fake vaccination card. In New York City, dozens of sanitation workers recently were suspended pending an inquiry into the use of fakes. In August, a Florida couple was arrested after authorities said they entered Hawaii using fake cards to avoid a mandatory quarantine.

The NFL is putting the onus on its teams in any attempts to thwart fake-card scandals.

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

In a statement released Thursday night, the Bucs — who routinely have offered on-site vaccinations to players, staff and their families — said all their 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.”

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

Validating vaccination status 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 shots including flu; measles, mumps and rubella; polio; and the coronavirus. 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 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 said.

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 Times. “We wouldn’t give the record to an employer.”

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

Kosher or counterfeit?

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

1. Cross-check the date a person says they were inoculated with the date that a specific vaccine was approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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

3. T. Tashof Bernton, an internal and preventative medicine physician at Colorado Rehabilitation and Occupational Medicine, says that 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 on a card is the same.


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