Oregon Mulls Creation of an electronic passport for vaccines

(TNS) – Oregon is considering a digital “vaccine passport” that allows people to electronically demonstrate that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, according to records the state provided to The Oregonian / OregonLive.

Public records indicate, however, that the state has not committed to implementing a verification system and has not chosen a supplier to build it. It’s unclear exactly how the new system would work, how much it would cost, or when Oregon could deploy it.

“At this point, we are looking at this option and learning more about this technology,” the Oregon Health Authority said in a written statement. “We have no deadline to propose at this time, but we will make an announcement as soon as there is a decision on the matter.”

Health authority spokeswoman Delia Hernández said the agency may have more to say next week. The agency informed Governor Kate Brown of various possibilities last month.

“The OHA is still in discussions with potential vendors regarding these applications, and our office is in discussions with stakeholders for their comments,” the governor’s office said in a statement.

At least seven states, primarily New York, have adopted some form of digital vaccine passport, although in some cases the technology is little more than an electronic image of a paper vaccine card. Nineteen other states have passed laws specifically banning vaccine passports.

No state has yet implemented mandatory vaccine checks to enter businesses or locations, instead offering digital passports as a way for businesses and other employers to verify vaccination status among employees and customers. in order to apply their own policies.

But apps have opened the door to such policies locally, with smartphone apps sharing authenticated vaccine information with sites or employers.

Hawaii requires travelers to electronically demonstrate that they have been vaccinated.

Starting September 13, New York City will require proof of vaccination for employees and customers of gyms, indoor theaters and sporting events. People can demonstrate their vaccination with an Excelsior Pass or through the city’s NYC Covid Safe app, which stores an image of vaccination cards. The city also accepts paper vaccination cards.

The New York Times reports Excelsior could cost the state up to $ 27 million.

Advocates say digital passports could allow people to reliably demonstrate their immunization status. Oregon is in the process of requiring most state employees, teachers and healthcare workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

And some Portland-area bars and restaurants, as well as entertainment and sports venues across the state, also require people to show proof of vaccination.

Some opponents say vaccine passports are an extension of the mandates they oppose, citing overly broad government fears. Other critics fear that government agencies or private sector companies could abuse or mismanage sensitive medical information.

In a presentation to the governor in late August, the health authority said it was talking with two potential suppliers: a Seattle company called Lumedic and IBM, which built New York’s Excelsior Pass. The presentation also said Oregon would consider creating its own technology rather than buying one from a private company.

In the documents submitted to the State, Lumedic proposes to match people with their health record when they register on a website, by verifying their identity with personal information. Vaccinated Oregonians could then download a smartphone app and use it to scan a QR code on a computer that then requests permission to share vaccination status.

“Now you can prove your COVID-19 vaccine status the same way you would with a boarding pass during a security check,” says Lumedic.

The health authority’s presentation to the governor identifies several potential issues with a digital vaccine app, noting that smartphone ownership, internet access and language barriers could create a barrier to adoption for members of diverse communities. from Oregon.

And the health authority said the technologies being considered could not access the immunization records of people who have been vaccinated in other states or countries.

Other states, the health authority notes, still allow hard copies of immunization cards as an alternative to digital checks, “which may fill some equity gaps in technology.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital privacy advocate, has criticized online vaccine passports elsewhere. The organization said other states were opaque about how the technology works and what they do to protect user information and have not established legal protections for COVID-19 data.

Ken Westin, a private security researcher in Oregon, said he liked the idea of ​​a digital vaccine passport. But he warned that it would be essential to protect personal health records and be transparent about how that information is secure.

“There is a valid concern that could be exploited, either by government agencies or even by a hacker,” Westin said. “If I was responsible for it, I would be very careful.

Implemented well, Westin said a digital vaccine passport could provide assurance that those who go to restaurants or attend sporting events are vaccinated – giving people the confidence to go out and giving an economic boost.

Even if sites continued to accept paper vaccination records, which can be easily tampered with, Westin said digital passports would make verification more convenient. And at least a certain percentage of people would be digitally authenticated. Digital scans could be much more effective at sporting events and other very large gatherings, where matching paper vaccine cards to photo IDs could otherwise be slow and tedious.

Whichever route Oregon takes, Westin said it’s critical for the state to protect people’s health information and be clear about how it does it.

“There is a way to do it and to do it safely,” he said, “but it’s going to start with this side of governance.”

© 2021 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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