Oregon Is Getting Ready to Debut a Digital Vaccine Card

Use of the proof-of-vaccination card will be strictly voluntary and optional, and there are no plans for a statewide vaccine passport requirement, officials say.

By Julia Silverman December 2, 2021

An optional and voluntary digital vaccine card could be on your phone by early March, if you chose to download it.

In early March of 2022, two years into the worldwide pandemic, the state of Oregon plans to roll out its first stab at a digital vaccine card. 

The $2.25 million effort flew largely under the radar until state Public Health Director Rachael Banks testified briefly about it in mid November in front of the members of the Oregon House Interim Special Committee on COVID-19 Response

The Oregon Health Authority’s plans call for a QR (or quick-response) code on your phone, that would link back to COVID vaccination records, allowing businesses to digitally verify your vaccination status with one quick scan, instead of peering at dog-eared vaccine cards and matching them with your driver’s license, the current mode often employed by the ever-growing list of restaurants and bars in Portland that are requiring proof of vaccination for entry. 

Use of the digital vaccine record will be strictly voluntary and optional, developers at the Oregon Health Authority have stressed repeatedly.  

In other words: a statewide mandate that Oregonians would need to show digital proof of vaccination in order to enter certain businesses, a system in place in Israel, France, Scotland, Italy, and elsewhere, is not under discussion. 

But as the pandemic eventually transitions to endemicity—the same way we live with the risk of contracting the flu each year, for example—policy makers in individual counties could decide to impose proof-of-vaccination requirements for entry into certain businesses, which is already underway in King County in Washington and Los Angeles County in California 

Multnomah County’s leaders are “assessing what kind of impact a vaccine verification system and policy would have on overall community health, as well as considering the logistical challenges, cost, and timeline of implementing such a system,” Kate Yeiser, a county spokesperson, wrote in an email. “Any mandate would be a policy decision for our Board, and those conversations are ongoing.” 

Public input into the process of developing the digital vaccine record cards has been somewhat limited, though the Oregon Health Authority has held some listening sessions aimed at populations that have been both disproportionately affected by the pandemic and might not otherwise have access to an electronic record of their vaccination from their health care provider.  

Attendees have also been advocates for those who might have specific concerns with digitized vaccine information, like migrant workers who are concerned about sharing information that could lead to deportation or older adults who have less familiarity with technology. 

But there is no official public comment period, says Erica Heartquist, a spokesperson for OHA, because developing the digital vaccine record does not involve a policy or rule change. 

During one of the feedback sessions held earlier this week, one of the attendees said via a translator that she felt the process was moving too quickly, and asked OHA authorities not to “forget about Indigenous languages. There’s a big need for this to be a tool that is offered for folks that speak other languages, other than Spanish, to give their feedback as well.” 

Oregon’s past efforts with technology in the pandemic have been spotty at best. The state abandoned plans for a contact tracing app after a long testing process yielded mixed results, amid questions about how many people would actually chose to use the technology. Meanwhile, other states have had digital vaccine verification apps in place for months now—New York was one of the first, while California and Washington have followed more recently. Meanwhile in Oregon, during the brief period in spring of 2021 when businesses were tasked with verifying vaccination status at the door for entry, the state then said it had "no plans" for any kind of app. 

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