Germany introduces digital COVID-19 vaccination certificate

The Federal Government intends to roll out a digital immunity certificate by the end of June, making it easier to prove that a person has been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. But critics warn the timeframe is too ambitious.

Germany’s Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Thursday (10 June) that Germany will roll out a digital immunity certificate “CovPass” by the end of June, making it easier to definitively prove that a person has been fully vaccinated.

The digital pass is to become available alongside Germany’s traditional yellow paper vaccination booklet, he stressed.

People who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and those who have recovered have recently become exempt from many restrictions in Germany. This includes travel restrictions, something that is very relevant in all of Europe ahead of the summer vacation time.

The embattled health minister from the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has been announcing new COVID-19 measures and spreading optimism on a daily basis of late. Observers see this also as an attempt to garner voter support, ahead of the general election in September, where Spahn’s party is seeking to hold on to power.

So starting next week, Germans will be able to prove they have been fully vaccinated by simply showing an app on their smartphones. Those who have already received all their jabs are supposed to be able to receive their digital certification retroactively.

In Germany, COVID-19 vaccines are administered in vaccination centers, by general practitioners, and since very recently also by company doctors.

All those who have already received their second vaccination at the vaccination center are supposed to automatically receive their vaccination e-certificate by post in the next few weeks. Using the QR code contained therein, the data can be uploaded to the apps intended for this, such as “CovPass” or the Corona warning app.

But doctors and pharmacists are ill-prepared and feel at a loss.

The reimbursement for the extra work of issuing the digital certificate has been regulated: Doctors have been promised €2-€6 reimbursement for each digital document they issue to the patients they vaccinate. For the retroactive issuing of a certificate clinics, vaccination centers and pharmacies will receive €18.

There are 20,000 pharmacies in Germany; they can register for the digital vaccine certification procedure as of this week.

But Andreas Müller, a pharmacist in Berlin who did not wish to see his real name published, told DW on Wednesday that he still had no information on how this is really supposed to work.

“I received a confirmation mail from the pharmacists’ association confirming that we may issue the digital certificate. But that was it, no additional information!” He shrugs his shoulders.

“We’re supposed to start on Monday. But I don’t know how to do this. I have no software for it. And I don’t know how to tell a fake paper certificate from a real one.” This really worries him, as issuing a fake certificate is punishable as an offense and carries a fine.

The pharmacist already had eight people come in on Wednesday asking for a digital certificate. In the pharmacy around the corner, there were even 20 people who all had to be turned away without being able to tell them when they’d be able to start giving out the digital certificates. “It almost makes me want to laugh,” Müller says with a look of despair.

Almost 20 million people in Germany have been fully vaccinated. They all have little vaccine stickers and stamps along in their yellow vaccination booklets. But many people don’t want the hassle of having to carry it with them at all times — not least for fear of losing it.

A certificate on a smartphone app would be much easier for restaurant visits or travel.

The European Parliament announced its authorization of the use of digital COVID-19 certificates within the European Union on Wednesday, saying that it is now up to member states to apply the rules.

The measures will come into effect from July 1 and will last for 12 months.

The proposed certificates would enable more secure travel between EU countries by validating whether someone has been fully vaccinated, has recently tested negative for the virus, or has recovered from the disease. The EU will also provide €100 million ($121.9 million) for the purchase of COVID-19 tests.

But Germany is lagging behind. The country has managed to expand its national coronavirus tracing app to read QR codes certifying the vaccination. But it is unclear whether this will be compatible with the new EU app.

General practitioner Michael Schäfer in Berlin is at a loss too. He doesn’t know what to say when his patients ask him about the digital certificate. “We hear something new every day,” he says. “But not how exactly it is supposed to work. It basically needs to be integrated in our administrative software, but administrative software provider PVS hasn’t been given any instructions yet.”

The government wants PVS, the billing system for healthcare providers, to develop and distribute a relevant software update for the digital COVID-19 pass by no later than July 12 — but preferably before the end of June; however, Schäfer has his doubts whether that timeline is realistic.

This article has been translated from German.

© DW

Visit the website of the Federal Ministry of Health for detailed information about the digital vaccination certificate

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