A coronavirus vaccine certificate for travelers, to ease movement by the Summer of 2021, will be Europe’s new reality EU leaders decided on Thursday.
However, although there was agreement on the need to issue such a “vaccine passport,” showing that travelers had indeed been inoculated, questions remained as to the closures of borders within the EU itself.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke about the unanimous understanding that such an agreement had to be made before the start of the crucial tourist season of Spring and Summer 2021.
Hope is on the horizon
In a press conference after the decision, she stated “Everyone agreed that we need a digital vaccination certificate.”
She added that the vaccine passports could be available by summer, but that the bloc needs three months to create the needed technical infrastructure to issue such documentation.
In response to earlier questions regarding the inequality some are claiming would exist when only those who are inoculated can leave their country, she stressed that the creation of the certificates “does not mean that only those who have a vaccination passport are allowed to travel.”
Leaders from all of the European Union’s 27 member nations also used the virtual meeting to discuss how best to speed up the delivery of vaccines and the potential for problems arising from national border closings within the bloc.
Speaking after the meeting, alongside European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel stated that Europeans and their leaders “need to face the truth” about the difficulty of the task at hand but added that hope was on the horizon.
Von der Leyen also stressed the great progress that has been made so far, going on to note that 8% of the adult population of the EU had already been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Coronavirus Vaccine Certificate: “Vaccine Passport” on the way
Expected to be one of the more contentious issues discussed by the bloc in recent times, the vaccine passports have been heavily promoted by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis as he attempts to help the tourist sector in Greece recover from the devastation of last year.
However, the more northern states of the EU were more reluctant to go along with such a scheme, citing concerns about discrimination, privacy and medical uncertainty about whether or not vaccinated people can still transmit the virus.
Indeed, German Chancellor Merkel admitted after the meetings that even though there had been broad agreement on having the certificates, it is still unclear exactly how they must be used in practice.
Von der Leyen explained that there was need of a minimal data system and added that the European Commission is now working to create a “gateway for interoperability between nations.”
However, she admitted that EU member nations would “have to act fast” if the program was to be implemented by Summer, 2021.
The news came as a welcome relief for nearly all across the EU, after a relatively slow and uncertain rollout of vaccination programs.
Nagging vaccine delivery and supply shortages, coupled with what a Deutsche Welle report called “unflattering comparisons” to the faster inoculation programs in the UK and US simply underscore the fact that EU member nations are lagging in the race to inoculate their citizens.
With the probable approval for emergency use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine candidate and the ramping up of already- produced vaccines, EU leaders hope that their programs will finally be on track by April.
The J & J shot, which is just one single dose and does not have to be frozen at all, protects 100% against severe disease and death caused by the coronavirus, according to Johnson & Johnson.
Variants cause concern
“The first task,” von der Leyen said, “is to achieve widespread vaccination. We should maintain our utmost efforts so the pace of vaccination picks up.
“More than 50 million of doses will have been delivered to the EU by Monday. More than 29 million have been administered as of today. That is 6.4% of the whole population and if you subtract children and teenagers, it is 8% of the adult population.”
However, the spread of variants, including those from the UK, South Africa and Brazil, continue to worry officials, who are keeping their eyes on a goal of inoculating as many citizens as possible before the variants spread much further.
As of today, more than 531,000 people have succumbed with the coronavirus in the EU.