Journalism Senior Roselyn Romero Breaks National News with Reporting on Fake Vaccination Cards
By Sophie Lincoln (Cal Poly College of Liberal Arts News)
In August, headlines began emerging across the country about college students purchasing fake COVID-19 vaccination cards to meet their schools’ vaccination requirements. Roselyn Romero, a Cal Poly journalism senior, broke the story during her investigative journalism internship at The Associated Press (AP).
Romero had only been working at AP for a few weeks as the Inaugural Intern for the Global Investigations Team when her story began gaining national attention. In addition to being republished by the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, and ABC News (among many news organizations) Romero was invited to discuss her piece with multiple broadcast outlets, including an appearance on an episode of NPR’s All Things Considered.
Romero began investigating fake vaccination cards after hearing about vaccination requirements within schools and organizations, following her natural curiosity about how verification and enforcement would be handled on such a large scale. Through tireless research, Romero discovered multiple social media accounts selling fake vaccination cards to college students and reported the story that would reach a national audience.
She was initially surprised by the amount of recognition her article received. “I started receiving text messages from my family and friends who saw my story, or they saw my name in say, the Ventura County Star newspaper that I grew up reading,” Romero said.
As successful as her reporting was, though, Romero had overcome feelings of self-doubt to pursue her ambitions. “After all of this, it’s reassuring to know that even though odds were stacked against me, I was able to conquer my fears and my doubts,” she said. “When I was applying to internships, I thought ‘I’m just going to apply everywhere and see if they will take me.’ But now, after those 10 weeks of my internship, I’m thinking ‘oh wow. I actually really like this, and I think I want to pursue investigative reporting in the future.’ I hope people can learn from my story that it’s possible for someone who is a woman and a person of color to have success.”
Out of all her recognition, Romero was most gratified by the positive changes universities made in response to the issues identified in her reporting. According to Romero, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill released a statement soon after the story broke, stating that they had examined their records and were happy to report that no fraudulent vaccination cards were discovered among their students and staff.
Before her internship at AP, Romero spent two years working as a producer at KSBY while pursuing her journalism degree at Cal Poly. While most of her background is in broadcast journalism, her internship with the AP has caused her to heavily consider a career in investigative print journalism.
Already, Romero has received multiple potential job opportunities. According to Romero, editors from AP, the Ventura County Star, and other news organizations have reached out to her, encouraging her to stay in touch and apply for future job openings post graduation.
In addition to finishing up her journalism degree at Cal Poly this year, Romero is pursuing minors in Spanish, ethnic studies, and women and gender studies. She is also a member of the university’s Honors Program, and will serve as the incoming Political Affairs Coordinator for the Pilipino Cultural Exchange and as a student researcher for the Communications Department.
For the time being, though, Romero does not have any immediate plans to start another position in news reporting. “It was so bittersweet leaving, but I don’t have any journalism-related internships or jobs or goals in the near future. It’s my senior year, and I want to enjoy it for at least fall quarter.”
IDs Aren’t The Only Fake Documents College Students Want — Now It’s Vaccine Cards Too
AP reporting reveals colleges’ heightened concerns over easy-to-obtain fake COVID vaccine cards.
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.
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.