Oregon launched a $2.45 million app this week aimed at making it easier to prove and verify that someone has been vaccinated against COVID-19, nearly a month later than previously promised and after pandemic restrictions have been lifted.
The project has been in the works since at least November, when Oregon health officials spoke about it to state lawmakers. In early March, the health authority said it was “on track” to launch it by the end of the month but the official rollout didn’t happen until Monday, when the agency announced on Twitter that people could sign up.
By 8 am Tuesday, 1,425 people had registered, Oregon Health Authority spokesperson Rudy Owens said in an emailed response to questions.
The concept of an easy-to-use app with verifiable vaccine information had appealed earlier in the pandemic, when entering some or all businesses required wearing a mask or displaying vaccination certification, creating logistical challenges for some companies and concerns about fake vaccine cards.
But state officials earlier this year lifted requirements, prompting many, but not all businesses to similarly stop masking measures or vaccination checks.
When asked, the Oregon Health Authority did not say Tuesday how many people it expects will use the tool. Nor did the spokesperson answer directly whether the cost of the project was justified for the number of people OHA expected would use the tool.
“The My Electronic Vaccine Card provides an equitable and accessible means for all individuals to maintain their important health records, while also providing a convenience factor that means residents don’t ever have to worry about not having or losing their cards if they need to use it,” Owens said.
Owens said Oregon worked closely with Washington and California in developing its app, which he said is available in 13 languages. Both those states’s vaccine verification systems saw high uptake, Owens said, pointing to a February Washington news release that said its system had been used to generate 1 million QR codes.
Oregon businesses, including bars, restaurants, movie theaters and live show venues can require proof of COVID-19 vaccination before allowing patrons inside. Until now, they have been relying predominantly on the paper cards people get when they get the shot or a photo of those cards stored on a cell phone.
OHA’s app provides people vaccinated in Oregon with another option — a digital QR code accessible by cell phone that, when scanned by a business, shows an individual’s name, date of birth, when they got vaccinated and which vaccine they received. The tool does not work for people who were vaccinated outside of Oregon.
To get the QR code, a person has to go to myelectronicvaccinecard.oregon.gov, provide their name, date of birth and the email or phone number they gave when getting vaccinated. Once OHA verifies the person is in their statewide vaccination records, the agency sends them a link with the QR code, which can then be stored on their phone as a photo, in a digital wallet or as a PDF file or printed out on paper. People can fill out an OHA form requesting help if the state doesn’t verify their vaccination status.
Businesses, in turn, can scan the QR code through a different app, such as SMART Health Card QR Code, which according to the company does not store users’ information.
The QR system will not be mandatory, and it is unlikely the digital card will replace existing methods businesses accept for proof of vaccination.
While venues such as the Moda Center stopped requiring proof of vaccination to attend Portland Trail Blazers games, others have maintained the practice.
Some shows at the Portland’5 Centers for the Arts, for example, still require patrons to show proof of vaccination and will almost certainly continue to accept regular vaccine cards as proof, said Executive Director Robyn Williams.
“It’s mostly an equity issue. Not everyone is going to have the resources for a computer and the wherewithal to log on” and register for the card, Williams said. “I think the shows are going to want to be flexible.”
— Fedor Zarkhin