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Europe Works towards International Vaccine Certificate Standards

EU Vaccine Certificate Standards

Vaccine certificate standards are a key issue for countries around the world. The EU adopted the EU Digital COVID Certificate in June 2021 and has since issued more than 591 million EU Digital COVID Certificates to member states. More than 43 countries connect to the EU Digital COVID Certificate. This includes the 27 member states.  It also includes 3 countries in the EEA, Switzerland, and an additional 12 countries and territories.

In addition, more than 60 countries have expressed interest and the EU is pursuing discussions with 28 of these countries.

Countries within the EU as well as travelers in the region have expressed their satisfaction in using the certificate for travel.  20 member-states have adopted the certificates for domestic purposes.

The uniformity of the EU Digital COVID Certificate has set a model for other countries that wish to develop vaccine certificates for travel.

Common Vaccine Certificate Standards

The EU began working on its digital vaccine system months before its launch. The commission engaged with key stakeholders to develop an interoperable, trustworthy, and privacy-protecting vaccination system.  A key element is that it could fit with a country’s existing system.

The EU system’s success calls for companies developing certificates to pay attention to the standards and the approach the EU took in developing its system.

In a comment highlighting the success of the EU vaccination verification system, Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton commented, “In record time, the European Union has set up a digital, secure and interoperable COVID certificate system. This has been a key driver for the recovery of the tourism ecosystem and its many small and family-owned businesses across Europe. Beyond that, the EU system is adopted by countries around the world, demonstrating how Europe can set global standards through decisive and coordinated action.”

Some of the standards that informed the development of the EU Digital COVID Certificate include:

  • Developing a simple system that can accommodate paper and digital certificates.
  • Flexibility and compatibility with existing national solutions.
  • Thorough protection of personal data.
  • Step-wise approach upon agreement by member states.

Based on the framework, vaccine certificates feature:

  • Minimum datasets (the certificates include only the essential information).
  • A unique vaccination certificate identifier that is globally unique and verifiable.
  • A trust framework through which the validity of a vaccine certificate can be established.

These guidelines have also provided a framework for countries to develop vaccine certificates compatible with the EU system.

The WHO has also adopted similar recommendations.

Vaccine Certificate Standards and Recognition of Certificates from Other Countries

Simultaneously, the EU is making progress towards accepting vaccine certificates from third countries. When this happens, travelers from accepted countries will be able to present their certificates and enter the EU.

As of October 27, 2021, 43 countries have connected to the EU system.  This allows their citizens to travel into the EU without concern about recognition of their certificates.

The European Commission on October 29, 2021, announced the acceptance of the NHS COVID Pass into the EU Digital COVID Certificate scheme. Travelers from the UK can now travel with their NHS pass into the EU starting November 1, 2021.

Moving Forward

As the only COVID-19 vaccination certificate in effect, the EU system has set standards for other countries that wish to implement successful vaccination verification systems.



Essential Features for COVID-19 Vaccination Certificates

Vaccination certificates may be the bridge towards helping economies recover from the burden of COVID-19. Countries all over are implementing different systems as their COVID-19 vaccination verification systems.  These range from physical certificates to digital health certificates.  What are the essential features for these certificates?

Israel is one of the countries that have successfully implemented vaccination and the use of digital certificates. As other countries and even the WHO consider developing a digital COVID-19 vaccination certificate, here are some of the essential features of a successful certificate:

Essential Feature: Minimum Data

Data is a valuable asset for businesses and criminals alike.  We have covered some of the ways criminals have exploited data during the pandemic on the RKN Global blog. Healthcare data is especially sensitive.  This is because it contains personal and medical information that criminals can exploit for different types of fraud.

Therefore, COVID-19 vaccination certificates need to provide access only to information that proves the holder is vaccinated without disclosing other sensitive information. The European Commission and the World Health Organization offer recommendations on the biographical information to include and to leave out.

1st of the Essential Features: Inclusive Formats

One consistent concern that has arisen over the use of digital vaccination certificates is how they alienate people without access to technology. A good vaccination certificate needs to provide citizens and users with alternative formats of their vaccination certificates.  This would include both e- and hard-copy formats.

Additionally, vaccine certificates should be portable to allow citizens to prove their vaccination status wherever they are.

COVID-19 vaccine passports should also accommodate differences between and changes in the effectiveness of different vaccines.  This includes effectiveness in preventing infection and transmission.  It also includes the duration of immunity and the frequency of vaccine passport renewal.

2nd of the Essential Features: Remote Verification

Remote verification is important in COVID-19 vaccination certificates. Certificates should allow for a secure, contactless remote verification using smartphones or tablets as verification devices.


Standardization is an important feature in COVID-19 vaccine certificates. Ideally, COVID-19 vaccination certificates should be built for interoperable technologies that allow different verification bodies to determine a person’s vaccinated status.

In addition, these vaccine passports should have verifiable credentials across the board. The Common Pass and the COVID-19 Credentials initiatives are working towards developing standardized digital solutions in this regard.


Affordability for governments and individuals is another key feature of vaccine certificates. Governments must have sufficient resources to develop and maintain a vaccination passport. In addition, the individuals of that nation must be in a position to afford the vaccination passport to prevent issues with the marginalization of low-income groups.

Meet Legal and Ethical Standards

The legality and ethics of vaccine passports have caused divisions across stakeholders and other experts. For vaccine passports to work, they must meet both legal and ethical standards.  These include international, regional, and national human rights laws, data protection laws, COVID-19 legislation, and equality and anti-discrimination laws.

Vaccine passports should be inclusive, have defined uses, and avoid worsening existing inequalities.  They should protect users’ privacy and offer them control over their own data.

Bottom Line

Vaccine passports are established to serve different purposes including vaccination status and COVID-19 infection status.

These certificates have certain features that are essential to their function and integrity.  Examples include the ability to maintain the privacy of the vaccinated person, to remain standardized, and to prevent exacerbating existing inequalities such as differential rollout access.