EU digital vaccine passport to come online in June

17 May 2021

Tourists prepare to board buses upon arrival at the Son Sant Joan airport in Palma de Mallorca as EU member state citizens and those from the passport-free Schengen zone were allowed freely into Spain. (Photo by JAIME REINA / AFP)

The EU is “fully on track” to ensure all its citizens and residents are able to have a free Covid vaccine passport next month to ease travel, a spokesman said last week.

The European Union is keen for anybody living in its 27 countries to be able to get a digital health pass – which the Commission refers to as a “green certificate” – to display their vaccination status, results of Covid-19 tests, and whether they had recovered from a prior coronavirus infection.

“It will be ready for summer to facilitate safe traveling, so it will be ready to use… by the end of June,” a European Commission spokesman, Christian Wigand, told a news conference. Another spokesman, Johannes Bahrke, added that 18 EU countries plus non-member Iceland would test the digital vaccine passport over the next two weeks to make sure any bugs were ironed out.

It is seen as a key tool to save the European summer vacation period, allowing countries dependent on tourists to reopen to visitors less likely to bring Covid with them.

Other countries around the world have moved in the same direction, including Israel with its “green pass”, and Britain, which has told its citizens that some international travel will be permitted in a week with an app from its National Health Service (NHS) showing vaccinations received.

For intra-EU travel

The EU digital vaccine passport will initially be used only for travel within the European bloc. But the European Commission is working on it being mutually recognized with certificates from non-EU countries, particularly the United States. There have been no discussions between Brussels and London so far on the EU system recognizing Britain’s NHS app.

France, Malta, and the Netherlands are among the countries test piloting the EU’s health pass. The test involves making sure that digital keys used to authenticate the passes work correctly, and that it is interoperable across different countries’ systems.

The digital pass, while mostly designed to be accessed via a smartphone app, also has to be able to be authenticated in paper form. The technology was developed by German companies T-Systems and SAP. “All member states will connect to the system during June, most of them at the mid-June,” Bahrke said.

While the commission expresses confidence that the green certificate will soon be up and running, negotiations are happening with the European Parliament over some aspects of the plan. The Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), for instance, want Covid tests for travel to be free or price-capped, and for EU countries to be barred from imposing quarantine on health pass holders.

But the commission says those issues should be left up to member states, which retain individual responsibility in health matters. It hopes that compromises will be reached to allow an EU regulation on the passes to be adopted before the end of June.

A vaccine passport would contain digital proof as to whether a bearer has been successfully tested and vaccinated. A unified electronic system that pulls up vaccination records at a moment’s notice and is widely accepted across countries, would be a revolutionary step for medical records, which were traditionally stored only at your doctor’s office.