BERLIN – The European Union plans to institute a COVID-19 vaccine passport by summer with an eye toward enabling travel within the 27-member bloc, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday.
The bloc’s executive arm, the European Commission, has been given three months to define the technical parameters for an immunization passport, she told a press conference in Berlin after taking part in a virtual summit with the other EU heads of government.
EU leaders hope the creation of such a mechanism will facilitate travel among member-states and possibly between the bloc and “third countries,” Merkel said.
She acknowledged that the EU still needs to resolve political questions around the idea of vaccine passports.
The chancellor said that in her view, it would be unjust to establish travel privileges for those who have been vaccinated before the vaccine has been made available to everyone.
Merkel also stressed that the prospective vaccine passport could not be the only option for people seeking to travel, pointing out that vaccination is not authorized for minors.
Currently, individual EU member-states require people arriving from abroad to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test and to quarantine for at least five days.
The immunization passport should be seen as one more tool to permit international travel in a context where the spread of coronavirus has been significantly reduced, Merkel said.
And given the virus’ ability to mutate, the chancellor said it was likely that people would need to get an annual COVID-19 booster in the same way that they now get a flu shot every year.
The apparently more-contagious variants detected in the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa are all present inside the EU, she noted.
Merkel said she and her colleagues agreed that the EU should not restrict vaccine exports as long as the producers of the vaccines authorized for use inside the bloc – Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford/AstraZeneca – are meeting their contractual obligations to the 27 national governments.
Eight percent of the adult population of the EU, 29 million people, have been vaccinated, according to European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen, who said that Pfizer and Moderna are living up to their commitments to member-states.
AstraZeneca, however, “has room to improve,” the former German defense minister said.
The Anglo-Swedish drug-maker said on Wednesday that it would only be able to deliver half the COVID-19 vaccines it was supposed to supply the EU in the second quarter of 2021.