How the UK and Europe plan to launch vaccine passportsAndrea Smith

As plans for a digital certificate to track European Union (EU) citizens’ COVID-19 tests and vaccinations go before the European Parliament, the UK has revealed its own plans around proving vaccination or testing status to travelers’ destination countries.

The UK left the EU in 2020 so is not part of the bloc’s digital certificate program. The UK plans to use its National Health Service (NHS) app—currently used to book medical appointments and order repeat prescriptions—to display the holder’s testing and vaccination status. The British Government is currently working with partners across the world to make sure that system can be internationally recognized.

A digital pass will indicate if the holder has been vaccinated © Aytac Unal/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The EU is aiming to have its digital pass operational in time for the summer. It will indicate if the holder has been vaccinated or has tested negative for the virus, and will also contain information on recovery for those who have been ill with COVID-19. Each hospital, testing center or health authority will have its own digital signature, and all of these signatures will be stored in a secure database in each country. The EU will develop a system where all certificate signatures can be verified across the EU.

Read more: What countries can I travel to if I’ve had the COVID-19 vaccine?

The digital certificate will be stored on a mobile device, and citizens can also request a paper version. Both will have a QR code that contains essential information, as well as a digital seal to ensure the certificate is authentic. Every EU citizen or third-country national legally staying or residing in the EU should be exempt from free movement restrictions once they hold the certificate.

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EU countries will have to accept vaccination certificates for vaccines that received EU marketing authorisation, although member countries may decide to extend the waiver of free movement restrictions to EU travelers who have received another vaccine. The commission is also working with the World Health Organization to ensure that the certificates will be recognized elsewhere in the world.

While concerns have been raised about privacy and the viability of launching such a program before many Europeans are vaccinated, European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, says it will respect data protection, security and privacy. Von der Leyen indicated last week that Europe aims to open for American travelers this summer, but the Guardian has reported that discussions on how Europe and the UK will ensure mutual recognition of their respective vaccine passports have not commenced. 

This article was originally published on March 18, 2021 and updated on April 29, 2021. 

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