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Vaccination passports in EU – the way ahead?

Zaventem airport

When the European Commission in January adopted a new plan for a united EU front to step up the fight against the pandemic, aiming at vaccination 70 % of the adult population by summer 2021, one of the issues was the recognition of vaccination certificates.

The Commission announced then it was working with member states on mutually recognized vaccination certificates, in full compliance with EU data protection law. The certificates in this form would only include medical information and not confer any specific benefits.

A Commission spokesperson told The Brussels Times today that thirteen member states report that they issue vaccination certificates or proofs for COVID-19 vaccinated persons. Six member states report that they currently do not issue certificates but they foresee this. The vaccination campaigns are still going slowly in most countries which might explain the delays in the issuance of the certificates.

“We are in active discussions with member states on the recognition of vaccination certificates as first and foremost a tool for medical purposes,” the spokesperson added. “It could also be scaled up globally in coordination with the World Health Organisation.”

On 27 January 2021, the e-Health Network adopted guidelines on proof of vaccination for medical purposes.

Asked about so-called vaccination passports to facilitate travels and open up tourism once the high infection rates have been reduced – an idea which has been floated by Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis – the spokesperson was less optimistic but did not exclude them.

“Although it is premature to envisage the use of vaccine certificates for other purposes than continuity of care, an EU approach may facilitate other cross-border applications of such certificates in the future.”

The Greek Prime Minister, however, has not given up on his idea. On Monday, he visited Israel and signed an agreement to ease travel restrictions to Greece for Israelis with proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

“We need to facilitate travellers once they provide easy proof of vaccination and this is what we intend to do Israel,” he said. Tourism accounts for up to 25 % of the Greek economy. Greece was one of the first countries that tried to open for tourism last year but the tourism sector collapsed because of the coronavirus crisis.

He added that Israel’s rapid vaccine campaign could inspire other countries to sign similar agreements later. “I expect that what we will be doing with Israel to be a trial run for what can be done with other countries.” The need to overcome widespread vaccine hesitance in some EU member states might be raised in favour of using vaccination passports as an incentive to get people vaccinated.

M. Apelblat
The Brussels Times