The European Council came together on Thursday to discuss the now widespread topic of an internationally recognized vaccine passport within the European Union. The task may prove complicated, since Hungary has begun using vaccines which are not recognized by the European Medicines Agency.
While they have not come to an official decision, members agree that the digital passport will allow for the verification of users’ health without risking their personal information.
A notable issue which could spark complications around the creation of vaccine passports is the use of the Sinopharm and Sputnik V vaccines in Hungary.
These vaccines cannot be recognized by the European Union until their documentation is approved by the European Medicines Agency.
Despite this, the Chinese vaccine currently makes up the bulk of Hungary’s vaccinations. 275 thousand people are currently being inoculated with it, and more will follow given the total of five million Sinopharm doses set to be shipped to Hungary over the course of the next few months.
The Hungarian government has also ordered two million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Although there is currently less of it in Hungary, Sputnik V was authorized and put to use prior to the Sinopharm vaccine.
Hungary’s use of the two unauthorized vaccines is not only a challenge for the development of the vaccine passport, but it is also leading to difficulties for people travelling to Poland.
Poland Not Recognizing Vaccines Without EMA Approval
Starting Saturday, only those with a negative coronavirus test can enter Poland from the Czech Republic or Slovakia, Poland’s minister of health Adam Niedzielski announced.
The minister added that anyone who steps across the border from those countries must go into a 14-day quarantine if they do not have evidence of a negative test.
The same rules apply to those who are not protected by a vaccine authorized by the European Medicines Agency. These currently include both Sinopharm’s vaccine and Sputnik V.
ATV asked Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó for his take on the new Polish law, but the minister responded that he does not wish to comment on other countries’ protection against the pandemic.
Szijjártó added that they have not been completely inoculated, yet they still held meetings in Krakow. With regards to pandemic operations, he said that “they will surely continue to see success.”
After its brief reopening, Poland is reintroducing pandemic restrictions due to the sudden increase in confirmed Covid cases. Stores, hotels, and sport venues are all being closed in the north-eastern Warmian-Masurian part of the country.
EU Member States Discuss the Most Vital Issues
In the online press conference held by the European Council, members of the European Union discussed the most urgent issues currently facing Europe.
The main topics included vaccine procurement, control over the virus, questions around border restrictions, and the now widely popular concept of a vaccine passport.
Southern countries are especially worried due to the upcoming tourist season, and enthusiastically shared their support for Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s suggestion of a “green passport.”
According to Kurz, it is best to have international consensus on the regulation of such a passport, which he believes would be a “simple solution for us to return to our old lives.”
Angela Merkel: Control Over Virus is a Priority
German chancellor Angela Merkel announced that the vaccination certificate allowing for freedom of travel within the EU’s borders could be introduced before the summer.
According to the chancellor, member states will individually introduce the authorizations on a national level, but with the officiation of the proposed legislation, the union will recognize each country’s documentation.
Merkel stated that no official decision has been made regarding the vaccine passport, but she emphasized that it will not infringe on non-vaccinated individuals’ right to travel.
However, Merkel said that currently, control over the spread of the virus is a priority, especially given its severity in countries such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and now Hungary.
European Council Agrees, Cooperation Is Key
President of the European Council Charles Michel stated that all member states agreed that cooperation against the pandemic must be strengthened, and that all non-essential travel must be restricted for now.
The president added, with regards to the passport, that the development of its software must continue, and all countries must come to a consensus around its protection of users’ information and privacy.
EC Official Optimistic About Vaccinations
President of the European commission Ursula von der Leyen said that the technical development of the digital vaccine will require at least three months until it is operable within the European Union.
The president also shared that member states agreed on the importance of ensuring the security of the certificate with regards to the use of personal information.
According to von der Leyen, so far 29 million people have been vaccinated within the European Union, 8 percent of its adult population. She added that by the end of the summer at least 70 percent of the union’s population could be vaccinated.
Developed Prospects for EU Vaccine Passport
Researchers at IBM have been developing a digital health verification certificate, called the Digital Health Pass, since February of 2020.
The purpose of the digital pass is to, using QR codes, “verify health credentials for employees, customers, and visitors entering their site based on criteria specified by the organization.”
IBM’s website stresses that privacy is central, and that the app shares personal health information ‘”in a way that is secured, verifiable, and trusted.
The app has the potential to be used not only by governments, but also by cruises, airlines, hotels, travel agencies, restaurants, sport centers, concert halls, or even theme parks.
According to travelo.hu, the main challenge in the creation of any kind of vaccine passport is the assurance of documentation which is internationally recognized but does not infringe on personal rights.
In its development of the digital vaccine passport, the European Union must consider the fact that by the time of its introduction, Hungary will have vaccinated a large number of its population with the Sinopharm and Sputnik V vaccines.
Still, EU member states seem determined to cooperate in these difficult times, and will likely find a way to overcome such obstacles. Whether through further analysis from the EMA or another EU authority, every inoculated person in the union may soon have a special “vaccine passport.”
Featured photo illustration by Vivien Cher Benko/Prime Minister’s Press Office/MTI