Since the dawn of time (around five or six months ago), people all over the world (Twitter users in the United States) have been puzzling over a very important question: why doesn’t the COVID-19 vaccine card fit in a wallet?
The card is too big for a standard wallet card slot and, as Amanda Mull pointed out in The Atlantic, still small enough that it’d be easy to lose. It’s like a reverse Goldilocks: just wrong. A handful of people speculated to Mull in August that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention might not have thought about the size of the cards all that much.
But it turns out they were at least thinking about the size of the card, according to emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and sent to The Verge by a reader.
Email correspondence within the CDC shows that the agency was working on a vaccination card at the start of August 2020, months before the first COVID-19 vaccines would be authorized for use. On August 6, a staffer sent an email with a draft vaccination card attached. “Keep in mind that the card needs to be small enough to fit in a wallet,” the staffer wrote in an email. “Most cards I see are around 4” x 3.5” and are usually folded.”
It’s important to note here that wallet-sized things are much smaller than 4” x 3.5”. Wallet-sized photos are 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches, and standard credit cards are 2.125 inches by 3.37 inches.
But the key bit of info comes at the end of the sentence: “usually folded.” If the cards were 4 inches wide and 3.5 inches tall, folding them in half would make them 2 inches wide and 3.5 inches tall. That’s pretty close to the size of a standard credit card.
And that wasn’t even the final dimensions of the cards. The following Saturday, Operation Warp Speed, which headed the vaccine development process, asked the CDC to send over the vaccine card by the end of the day Monday. The CDC team went into overdrive to finalize the design by the deadline, and the same staffer sent over a print-ready version on Tuesday morning. In that email, the dimensions of the card were set at 4.25 inches by 3.5 inches.
Ok, time for more math. Folding that sized card in half would put the card at 2.125 inches by 3.5 inches, just about the same size as a credit card. Excellent! Perfect size to meet the goal of fitting in a wallet. All set, good to go.
But unfortunately, this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Even if the CDC designed the card to be that size, it’s not the size the cards ended up at. My vaccine card measures in at 4 inches by 3 inches — too big to fit into a wallet. There’s nothing on the card to suggest folding it. And besides, folding it in half puts at 2 inches by 3 inches (so much math today). That’s smaller than a credit card and just small enough that it would slide down into a card slot and be difficult to dig out.
What happened in between these emails, which promised a card that would fit in wallets, and the vaccination campaign, which gave everyone cards that don’t easily fit in wallets? That’s where things get fuzzy, and it’s a mystery I still haven’t solved. The CDC didn’t respond to a request for comment. Maybe someone just clicked the wrong button on a printer at some point. But maybe there’s a lesson here: the road to hell is paved with good intentions — and infuriatingly shaped cardstock.