The European Union has announced its intention to create a shared vaccination passport to facilitate travel between member states without the need for travelers to undergo COVID-19 PCR tests or quarantine upon arrival in a destination.
Additionally, its use could eventually be expanded to guarantee entry to large gatherings such as musical concerts and sporting events.
The matter was discussed during a virtual summit between EU leaders on 25 February 2021, in which representatives agreed to work to implement the new vaccination certificate in 3 months’ time.
The consensus among most EU countries is that a digital vaccination certificate would be an “important instrument” to help restart the bloc’s policy of free movement, reopen borders, and give the economy a much-needed boost.
When Will the EU Vaccination Certificate Be Launched?
The EU has stated that its intention is to reopen travel for summer 2021 and a European vaccination certificate is seen by many as the key to doing this.
A virtual summit between EU leaders on 25 February 2021 concluded that it was too early to move forward with a digital vaccination certificate, postponing the issue for a further 3 months until a sufficient number of people in the European bloc have been vaccinated.
Representatives from all the member states have been put to the task of coming up with proposals for the implementation of this “vaccination passport” in the meantime.
Italian MEP David Sassoli said that the European Council was working on a number of measures to allow mobility before the end of summer and that a vaccine certificate for Europe was on the agenda.
He voiced his support for the idea, describing it as “an instrument that can support an orderly reopening, a safe reopening of activities including economic activities and free movement”.
Common Vaccine Passport Supported by Several EU Countries
The proposal for the common European vaccine certificate has already received support from the governments of several EU countries where the economy is heavily dependent on tourism, including Greece, Portugal, and Spain.
Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has welcomed the implementation of a common EU vaccination passport, suggesting that it could “provide a positive incentive to encourage citizens to get vaccinated, which is the only way to ensure a return to normalcy”.
He also urged EU countries unsure about the measure to resolve the debate before the summer months and 2021’s busiest period for tourism begins.
Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa has echoed Mitsotakis’ words, stating: “The essential thing is to find a way to guarantee free movement in Europe so that no country feels the need to close its borders again due to the pandemic”. However, he has also suggested that he feels that mandatory PCR tests for travel should be maintained.
Pedro Sánchez, the Prime Minister of Spain has also welcomed the potential common vaccination certificate as a way to “facilitate intra-community mobility” for tourism, but also for other travelers such as business visitors and students. However, he has also stressed that the implementation depends on “a consensus in the health and scientific community”.
World Health Organization Skeptical about the Certificate
Despite the support for the proposal put forward so far, the EU vaccination passport plan has also faced some criticism, most notably from the World Health Organization (WHO).
The WHO’s Emergency Committee has argued against using proof of vaccination or immunity as a condition of entry, reasoning that “the impact of vaccines in reducing transmission is still unknown” and that “the current availability of vaccines is too limited”.
Although it has not rejected the idea of the common vaccine certificate outright, it has cautioned that “being vaccinated should not exempt international travelers from complying with other measures to reduce the risk of travel”.
Von der Leyen has somewhat agreed with this sentiment, affirming that “This is something that we are going to have to discuss at the European level in order to have common rules. The important thing is to find the correct and fair balance”.
Vaccines, “the light at the end of the tunnel”
The news of a vaccination certificate reflects European Commission President Ursula von der Leyden’s comments at an event in Lisbon where Portugal assumed the rotating EU presidency, in which she asserted that “vaccination is the light at the end of the tunnel of this pandemic”.
Although making vaccination against COVID-19 compulsory in their territory falls to the government of each member state, the EC has strongly advocated vaccines as the only sustainable exit strategy from the coronavirus pandemic and has set the goal of vaccinating at least 70% of the European adult population in order to obtain herd immunity.
Von der Leyden has affirmed that with multiple vaccines against COVID-19 now on the market, including BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca, and more in development, they now have access to over 760 million doses, more than enough to vaccinate up to 80% of the total population of the EU.
Although von der Leyen has shared her opinion that a common vaccination certificate is “a medical necessity”, the leaders of some EU members, most notably France and Germany, have been reluctant to agree, although German Chancellor Angela Merkel appears to have warmed to the idea more recently.
Von der Leyen has also cautioned that there may be difficulties putting the EU vaccine certificate into practice and that “a second question, of a political and legal nature, is what you can do with this certificate.”