Coronavirus passports at risk as countries break away from EU vaccine plan

James Crisp
·3 min read
Europe's summer season hangs in the balance without some sort of vaccine passport scheme - PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA /Getty
Europe's summer season hangs in the balance without some sort of vaccine passport scheme - PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA /Getty

European Union coronavirus passports could be put at risk if member states continue to break away from the bloc’s vaccines strategy by buying Russian and Chinese vaccines, diplomats have warned.

Brussels is set to propose legislation to create an EU-wide Digital Green Pass on March 17. The vaccine certificate will be the first step towards an eventual passport that could help save Europe’s summer season and would be open to tourists from the UK and other non-EU countries.

But those hopes could be dashed because more and more countries are buying jabs outside of the EU joint procurement scheme and authorising vaccines at national level that have not been approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

An EU diplomat told The Telegraph: “It doesn't bode well for a European vaccination certificate as a basis for travel. It will be impossible to certify for the patchwork of vaccines approved by different authorities outside the EU jurisdiction.”

EU officials warned that the Digital Green Pass would not become the "tail that wags the dog" on vaccine approvals.

Europe's vaccine procurement
Europe's vaccine procurement

They insisted that Brussels would only be guided by advice from the EMA and not cave to pressure to reopen in time for the summer season.

The EU negotiated as a bloc to secure jabs but frustration has built with the strategy due to supply shortfalls and the slow pace of vaccine authorisations by the EMA. Restrictions on travel remain in place and the EU is lagging far behind the UK, US and Israel in vaccinations.

Some 51 percent of Germans, 35 percent of French and 24 percent of Swedish respondents to a poll said the EU has handled the vaccine rollout badly, the Politico website reported today.

“If the EMA is too slow the solution isn’t seeking outside approval but making sure the regulator reforms and speeds up its procedures,” the diplomat said.

The European Commission said this week it hoped the pass would be a step towards an agreement with the World Health Organisation for passports to allow travel into the EU from outside the bloc.

“If the WHO accepts Sputnik or the Chinese vaccines we might be in a different scenario but at the moment it is too early to tell,” a second EU diplomat said.

EU rules allow member states to buy supplies of vaccines not covered by the joint scheme. National regulators can approve jabs not yet authorised by the EMA, which has not yet begun the approval process for the Russian or Chinese vaccines.

Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia have bought or plan to buy Russian and Chinese jabs separately to the scheme run by Brussels and without waiting for approval by the EMA.

Austria and Denmark said they would develop second generation vaccines with Israel separate to the EU scheme on Monday night.

Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far right League and former deputy prime minister, called on Italy to become the latest country to go it alone and buy their own vaccines outside of the EU scheme.

"Denmark, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary have done well," he said on Tuesday. "If the Austrians are looking now to Israel, good for them. If San Marino is looking to Russia [for the Sputnik vaccine], good for them. We need to do likewise."

There is no sign that the new Italian government, led by former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, will listen to Mr Salvini’s demands.