Digital Green Certificate: Everything We Know So Far

By Paula Pardo Published on Apr. 27, 2021

On March 17th the European Commission presented their Digital Green Certificate, an initiative through which EU citizens, residents, visitors, and their families will be able to show a QR (either digital or in paper) to provide proof of health (vaccination, immunization status, or result of recent testing). In this article, you’ll find out everything we know (so far) about this initiative: what the digital green certificate is, what it entails, and how it relates to existing health passes.

What is the Digital Green Certificate?

It all started with the following tweet by European Commission's President Ursula von der Leyen.

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This initiative quickly caused controversy among EU citizens. This may be due to different possibilities: maybe there’s a lack of information, which is causing the public's wild imagination to fill the blanks; or maybe there’s a general reticence to foster private information gathering for governmental purposes.

Three weeks later, on March 18th, 2021, the European Commission made public the Digital Green Certificate initiative, which would act as proof of three items:

  1. Whether the user has received the vaccine, and if so, the brand, batch, and date of each dose.
  2. The latest lab results, including means of testing, testing lab, and date of the test.
  3. Whether the user has already recovered from COVID-19 or has not yet contracted it.

The proposed solution will be available digitally, but it could also include a paper format.

The Digital Green Certificate will be valid for all EU Member States, as well as for Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. It will be issued to all EU citizens, their family members (regardless of their nationality), non-EU nationals residing in the EU, and visitors.

It is conceived as a temporary measure, to be suspended once the WHO declares the end of the COVID-19 international health emergency. Nevertheless, it is likely that we will see how this type of solution, with the momentum gained during the COVID crisis, will go on and adapt to future scenarios, where other matters will be taken into consideration, such as additional vaccines, recommended preventive medication (i.e., malaria pills), and more.

To ensure respect towards state sovereignty, each state member will keep the prerogative of deciding which public health restrictions are to be contemplated as well as the waivers. Here is the updated list of state members looking into ways of certificating COVID-19 vaccinations. It is important to note that the Digital Green Certificate does not act as a free pass to travel across state members. It is just the mechanism the EC has proposed to ease data exchange and the harmonization of health certificates for all EU members.

It requires any of the aforementioned criteria (the three stances that certify that either you are vaccinated, have recovered already from COVID, or have tested negative) have to be met in order to be able to travel. Hence, the measure is mainly oriented towards maximizing the applicability of the measure to all potential passengers, easing EU members and their Schengen counterparts into resuming travel, at least within the region. By diversifying the options for health certifying, and giving the proposal a much aseptic name, the Digital Green Pass intended to appease those who saw vaccine-only health certificates as potentially discriminatory. This is the reason why, more than a vaccine passport, as some call it, it should be nicknamed an “Immunization Pass”.

However, the delays in the vaccination schemes in most countries leave most of the population with the only option of taking a COVID-19 test, reducing drastically the chances to get proof of health. That is because COVID tests are only covered by social security schemes when there has been direct contact or when there are reasonable indicators that the patient might have COVID, and are quite pricey if having to pay them from your own pocket.

Digital Green Certificate: The Available Solutions

The proposal only states that the European Commission will provide member states with a “gateway” to ensure authentication of the certificates and that it will support the development of a software that the authorities can use to track, generate a QR, and verify all certificate signatures across the EU. In other words, as of yet, there is no EU Immunization Pass per se, no provider, and no specific technology: there is no EU Digital Green app you can download. a

The first country to make a move towards the application of such a solution has been France, which has opted to develop additional features on its contact tracing app - TousAntiCOVID - rather than implement an existing solution. The french app was developed ad hoc by a number of entities such as Inria, ANSSI, Orange, and Dassault among others, in collaboration with the French health public service. Launched in October 2020, TousAntiCOVID added to its contact-tracing Bluetooth feature, the capability to store COVID test results (both quick antigen tests and PCRs), and it will support vaccination certificates in the near future.

Does this mean that each EU member will follow France in developing their own solution? Or will they decide to incorporate existing solutions that are being currently tested and used? For instance, some of the following solutions which are having high traction and market adoption internationally including:

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All in all, whether other countries will follow suit or whether they will opt to incorporate existing solutions as backbone for their national digital green certificates, is still yet to be seen.

And while major efforts are being done to ease our societies into the fast-paced activity characteristic of the “pre-COVID era”, there is still a number of challenges on both sides of the table: Most of the companies behind these solutions are making an active effort towards finding standardization methods and interoperability measures to make sure all registries of health (being vaccination certificates, different tests, and others) can be included. For instance, The Good Health Pass Collaborative (GHPC), or ICAO’s CAPSCA. Other initiatives not working on a framework but offering agnostic interoperability options would include Amadeus’ Traveler ID initiative, or SITA’s Health Protect platform.

In the case of public entities and governments worldwide, making sure that the health data users use can be verified and traced is a top priority, especially after the surge in fake health certificates. Cases have been reported in many different geographies, from the UK, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, Spain, France, Afghanistan, or Brasil.

Digital Green Certificate: A Conclusion

Overall, we can see that, while it is still unclear what is in store for the development and future of current Digital Health Passes, as of now, the Digital Green Certificate does not necessarily pose a threat to current health passport providers, both public and private, as long as they conform with the key information requirements established by the EC.

However, if you want to learn more about the state of interoperability, data protection, and traceability initiatives looking to ensure a more secure and effective environment for Health Passes, take a look at the recording of our Digital Wellness Pass event.


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