Article updated on June 10th, 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.
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:
- Whether the user has received the vaccine, and if so, the brand, batch, and date of each dose.
- The latest lab results, including means of testing, testing lab, and date of the test.
- 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 the authentication of the certificates and that it will support the development of 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.
Earlier this June, the European Parliament concluded the legal process of implementing the EU Digital Green Certificate, by voting in favor of implementing this system which will be active for a full year (from July 1st, 2021 to the same day in 2022).
France has been the first country to make a move towards the application of such a solution. They have 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 country's 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.
Similarly, Germany has begun to prepare their rollout of the digital vaccine certificate which will be accessible through the existing Corona Warning App, more commonly known as Corona-Warn-App. The solution, developed by software provider SAP and Deutsche Telekom (part of T-Systems) already counts 25M users and is expected to be supporting proof of vaccination from Thursday 10th on.
Other countries have decided to simply integrate the proof of vaccination certificates within the documentation that the user can access through their local and/or national governmental digital platforms. Countries such as Spain are counted among the group of countries that are leveraging their eHealth systems to ensure vaccinated users can resume international mobility as soon as possible, although with varying degrees of implementation across regions.
Others such as Luxembourg, are making available access to digital (printable) vaccination certificates through their digital public administration platform, MyGuichet.lu. This platform allows for a certificate to be generated by providing proof of appointment, an invitation to participate in the vaccination campaign, and a personal code.
Does this mean that each EU member will follow France or Germany in developing their own solution? Will they in turn use their existing digitized Health systems to issue the certificates without the need of a COVID-specific solution, just like Spain or Luxembourg are doing? Or will they decide to incorporate existing solutions that are being currently tested and used?
For those countries that have not yet decided on a strategy, or corporations looking for solutions to implement, there always exists the option to incorporate a solution from those that are currently tested and used by various authorities and industries. Here are some of the solutions that are having higher traction and market adoption at an international level:
- Clear’s Health Pass
- Perlin’s AOK Pass
- Daon’s VeriFly
- Common Pass
- IATA’s Travel Pass
- Airside’s Mobile Passport App
- Yoti ID, now combined as a test-and-certificate service FRANKD
- IBM’s Digital Health Pass.
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, check out Plug and Play’s Travel & Hospitality Digital Wellness Pass Events: “Our Ticket Back to International Travel and Beyond” (February 2021) and “The Missing Link” (April 2021).
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