A health worker hands out doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID 19 vaccine to a doctor at Messe Wien Congress Center, which has been established as coronavirus Disease Immunization Centre in Vienna, Austria for February 7, 2021. REUTERS Lisi Niesner
Countries introducing their own COVID vaccination certificates would have to grapple with a myriad of shared systems if the bloc fails to build a disjointed one, said a senior official on Wednesday.
The EU is pushing for a free digital health pass to allow tourists to travel this summer. However, discussions are still not settled over costs, data and privacy issues as well as technical and medical aspects of the new system.
If we can deliver politically, the technical solution will be available in time. If we don't, we risk fragmentation across Europe, with a multitude of potentially unstable national solutions, in this case, said EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders.
We would risk having a variety of documents that are not accepted in member states and that cannot be read or verified. And now we risk the spread of forged documents and with it, the spread of both the virus and the mistrust of citizens, he told the European parliament.
European countries like Italy are particularly keen to launch the new tool as soon as possible to help economies, which were mauled by the pandemic. But they face a more complex north, as well as reluctant EU decision procedures.
With no central gateway to ensure interoperability yet in place, countries such as Estonia, Lithuania, Greece, Spain, Germany and France are introducing their own solutions to document vaccinations. Commission officials said during a separate briefing that the gateway - which would allow officials from one EU country to check the health pass of a visitor from elsewhere in the bloc - would be tested next month.
Twenty member states will be ready for the trial phase with a view to making it possible to go fully live by mid-June.
The technology for enabling digital passes is electronic and no sensitive personal information would be shared, officials said.
Disputes between EU countries over supplies of medical equipment, drugs and vaccines have already complicated the bloc's joint response in the pandemic earlier in the period.
As it now faces a third wave of infections, sceptics say discussions about restarting low travel for free are premature given all the vaccination levels.
The rushed implementation of the joint system raises questions over how visitors from abroad will be handled.
Questions remain, also concerning which vaccines they would honor, with a distinction between those approved for the EU by the European Medicines Agency and those like the Chinese or Russian jabs that might only be allowed by some countries.
Another issue is whether antibody tests provide adequate proof that someone is immune to COVID -19. The EU countries including Belgium also worry about sexist discrimination against those who wouldn't get it.