Oregon’s much-anticipated effort to roll out a digital proof-of-vaccination app is delayed again, and is now set to debut in late April, about two months behind schedule, the Oregon Health Authority said Thursday.
The $2.25 million effort was paused after “community partners raised concerns about the word ‘verify’ in the name [of the program], because they worried it would defer people from using it,” according to Erica Heartquist, a spokesperson for OHA. Health officials have stressed repeatedly that the program is optional and voluntary.
“The tool is meant to provide everyone with access to a free electronic record of their vaccination, and while many health systems are providing those records to their clients, not everyone in Oregon has a health care provider,” Heartquist says.
As a result, the program will be rebranded as “My Electronic Vaccine Record.” It is intended to give Oregonians an alternative to pulling out a dog-eared COVID vaccination card or a blurry phone photo, plus an ID, when asked for proof of vaccination at a venue like a restaurant or theater.
Using the app will allow Oregonians who have been vaccinated in the state to access a QR (or quick response) code that links back to their vaccination status.
Oregon has been consistently behind neighboring states in its attempts to manage the pandemic with technology. First, the state abandoned plans for a digital exposure notification system after a long testing process yielded mixed results, amid questions about how many people would actually chose to use the technology. Additionally, New York, California, and Washington have all had digital vaccine verification apps in place for at least a few months now.
Meanwhile, the pandemic has entered a new stage, at least for the time being, which could blunt the public interest in such an app. COVID-19 related hospitalizations are at their lowest point since July of 2020 and case counts, though rising again, are still at a fraction of their January 2022 peak, and health experts say they expect that natural immunity and vaccination will buffer Oregon against some of the worst of the BA2 variant now spreading around the globe.
Oregon lifted its mask mandate for indoor public spaces in mid-March, and proof of vaccination requirements have been lifted too, particularly at major venues like the Moda Center, though verification continues to be required at some restaurants and at a wide coalition of performing arts companies. (Even some countries in Europe that had strict vaccination requirements in place for entry into public spaces have begun rolling those back in the last two months. While being vaccinated does not mean you cannot get or transmit COVID, it does offer excellent protection against severe forms of the disease, and makes transmission less likely.)
The state is currently reviewing the app to make sure it works for users who need assistive technology; it will be available in English, Spanish, simplified and traditional Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian, Korean, Portuguese, Hmong, Somali, Marshallese, Chuukese, and Arabic.