Thursday

25th Feb 2021

EU leaders to discuss vaccine certificates

  • EU countries started vaccinating the elderly and hospital workers in the last days of 2020 (Photo: European Commission)

EU leaders on Thursday (21 January) will coordinate on Covid-19 vaccines, new virus variants, and possible vaccination certificates in a videoconference, as the perceived slow roll-out of vaccines and extended lockdowns create frustration in the continent.

EU leaders "intend to start work" on possible vaccines certificates, initially proposed by Greece, for travellers who have already received their jabs.

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"We can agree in principle that we should work on common standards, and interoperability. We want to avoid things being blocked because vaccines are not recognised in one particular country," said a senior EU official.

The goal is to avoid member states not recognising each others' vaccinate documentations, as was the case with Covid-19 tests, where some EU countries did not recognise each others' testing.

Another aim is to avoid border closures and make freedom of movement possible as soon as possible.

"We are not talking about making the vaccine obligatory or having vaccine passports obligatory for all travellers," said the EU official ahead of the summit on Wednesday.

EU diplomats and officials also pointed out that it was not clear if vaccinated people could still carry the virus and infect others without getting sick themselves.

"To rush into a certificate discussion, when you don't even know if you can infect others or not despite being vaccinated, doesn't make sense," said an EU diplomat, adding that he hoped a medical opinion on that could come before the summer.

The certificate is one of many issues around vaccines that highlights the EU's difficult balancing act between rolling out vaccines quickly, while ensuring public confidence in their safety.

Another issue is the authorisation of more vaccines.

Pressure

The leaders of Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, and Greece also sent a letter to European Council president Charles Michel, telling him that EU governments must send a strong signal to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in Amsterdam to ensure the approval of vaccine candidates is "as efficient as possible".

EMA is due to discuss the approval of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine, already authorised in the UK, later this month.

Hungary, for its part, has started procedures to authorise the Chinese and Russian Covid-19 vaccines.

Prime minister Viktor Orbán piled pressure on the national health authority to decide on approving the Chinese one, saying Western versions negotiated by the EU were too slow to arrive.

When asked about the two vaccines that have not been approved by EMA and Hungary's efforts to get them, the EU official said it was not for the summit to judge.

"The European Council is a place where we discuss, and it is not a tribunal, or a trial. It is the responsibility of the Hungarian authorities, a decision made by the government, we will see in the future what are the consequences," the official said.

Several EU leaders also urged the EU Commission in a letter to check on investments made by the EU into pharmaceutical companies to ramp up vaccine production.

The commission, on Tuesday, urged member states to to vaccinate at least 80 percent of health workers and people over the age of 80 by March, and 70 percent of all adults by the end of summer.

Vaccinations are carried out by member states, and the different pace can arise from different strategies, administrative hurdles, logistical constraints, capacities available to keep the vaccines at freezing temperature, and the delivery of vaccines on time.

Another key issue for EU leaders on Thursday will be sharing information on the new variants of Covid-19.

"There is need for coordination, so that we have the same understanding of the new variant," the EU official said.

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