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18th Apr 2021

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Vaccine certificates are a way to reopen Europe, not close it

  • Europeans are restless, and rightly so, but they are no longer hopeless (Photo: UR-SDV)

If not in sight, the end of the Covid crisis has now at least become imaginable.

The vaccination campaign remains uneven across member states but is slowly but surely starting to gather pace, with priority given to frontline workers in health care and the elderly.

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  • The vaccination campaign remains uneven across member states but is slowly but surely starting to gather pace, with priority given to frontline workers in health care and the elderly (Photo: Département des Yvelines)

Hiccups on vaccine deliveries and production have focused minds on everyone's responsibilities.

And the European Commission stands by its commitment to have vaccines ready to inoculate seventy percent of the EU's population by the end of Summer. Europeans are restless, and rightly so, but they are no longer hopeless.

Next, we need to start planning our way out of the Covid restrictions on life and work across Europe. The debate on how and when to reopen our societies and economies has kicked off, and information on vaccinations throughout the EU is part of that discussion.

Transparency about vaccination progress is an important way to convince citizens of their effectiveness and safety. Governments too need clear information, in order to gradually lift constraints in travel when and where possible.

For the EU, this is more than a practical consideration: Freedom of movement is part of it's raison d'être.

Unduly limiting people right to work, travel and live across borders would run against the very idea of Europe.

Therefore, a common vaccination certificate – instead of 27 individual initiatives - can form part of the solution, together with other sanitary measures already in place, to resume travel and tourism and reduce current travel restrictions.

The question is how to present and share information about European citizen's vaccinations when they travel in and across EU member states. Several governments have already started work on a vaccination passport.

These efforts need to be coordinated within an EU framework to be workable, easy to use as well as safe.

The Commission also needs to consider a vaccination certificate as an alternative solution to remove or reduce lengthy quarantines, replace testing requirements and border restrictions.

Because people's concerns are real, and legitimate.

Privacy and non-discrimination

We need to assure them that vaccine certificates cannot and will not infringe on their fundamental rights as EU citizens, such as privacy and non-discrimination.

An individual vaccination certificate, be it on paper or digital, should also have a medical purpose and show whether someone is vaccinated or not, and if so, on which date, vaccine type, and number of doses.

All of which should be useful to improve knowledge about the state of Covid vaccinations and contribute to the long-term management of the pandemic. But there is no need to build a centralised database, let alone to make information to other parties.

Safeguards will prove especially relevant in the months ahead, as certification will have to start while the speed and order vaccination still differs a great deal from one member state to another.

Vaccine certificates will de facto lead to temporary inequalities among citizens according to their access to vaccines.

We need to make it clear that their introduction acts as a spur to national authorities' vaccination efforts and ensure that showing a negative test result remains an alternative option for those who do not have a vaccination certificate. In any case, any cross-border consequences of vaccination should be proportionate—in no way should certification lead to an indirect obligation to be inoculated.

The initiative lies with the European Commission: we want it to lay down a common European format and standardised information for a Covid-19 vaccination certificate, so that national efforts are coordinated from the start and their use is mutually recognised within the EU.

Speed and clarity at EU level will also push governments to assure that their citizens too have access to a vaccination certificate as soon as possible.

Vaccination certificates will be necessary for a while, and a useful measure contributing to the long-term management of the pandemic and restore the freedom of movement as soon as possible.

But their existence should be temporary and only until the Covid-pandemic is overcome.

So we must make sure they become a tool to deal with the Covid crisis and its practical fallout more effectively.

Only if we get it right will we show Europeans that the benefits of EU membership – travel and tourism, cross-border work and opportunities, rights and freedoms – will be part of the European story again and always.

Author bio

Soraya Rodríguez and José Ramón Bauzá are MEPs with the Renew Europe group.

Disclaimer

This article is sponsored by a third party. All opinions in this article reflect the views of the author and not of EUobserver.

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