Covid pass deal to enable UK vaccine verification by EU countries

Under the agreement, vaccination status of UK citizens will be digitally verified via the EU digital Covid certificate gateway

A new agreement between the UK and the European Union is enabling European member states to digitally verify the NHS Covid Pass.

Led by the NHS digital delivery unit NHSX, the initiative is aimed at simplifying access by UK citizens to venues such as museums, restaurants and other locations requiring proof of vaccination against Covid-19 in countries across the European Union (EU).

Most EU countries accept the UK’s digital vaccine certificates, including the NHS Covid Pass (England and Wales) and certificates provided by Northern Ireland, Scotland and the Crown Dependencies, but only a few are able to scan them.

With the UK-EU agreement announced today (1 November 2021), EU member states and the UK can digitally verify their respective vaccination status through the EU Digital Covid Certificate (DCC) gateway. Countries linked to the DCC, such as Norway, Switzerland, Israel and Iceland, are also covered by the initiative.

Users of the NHS Covid Pass downloaded to Apple Wallet or as a PDF can refresh their digital pass to ensure the vaccine certification is updated to reflect the latest changes. According to NHSX, the NHS Covid Pass is recognised by more than 80 countries globally.

“This news will add yet more countries to that list, simplifying international travel for Covid Pass users and enabling digital verification across Europe and beyond,” said Matthew Gould, chief executive at NHSX.

The agreement follows the announcement of government plans to add vaccine functionality to the NHS App in April. At the time, government officials said the controversial NHS Covid-19 contact-tracing mobile app would not be used. While the ability to verify vaccination status for holidays abroad was welcomed, experts raised concerns over data privacy and civil liberties risks in relation to the vaccine passport.

The NHS Covid Pass was launched on 17 May after joint work by NHSX and NHS Digital. There was a surge in downloads of the NHS App following the addition of the vaccination status service and, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), it is currently the most downloaded free app in England.

Also today, air transport industry IT provider SITA announced that it would make the entry-level configuration of its Digital Travel Declaration solution – which allows passengers to share required travel and health documentation with governments ahead of travel – available at no cost to governments for one year.

According to SITA, the initiative is intended to tackle the challenge of submitting and verifying health documentation. Citing recent research from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the company noted that inefficiencies and a lack of common standards around managing health documentation were the single biggest obstacle to rebuilding the travel and tourism industry.

The Digital Travel Declaration, which informs governments on passenger health status ahead of travel and optionally issues authority to travel, has been operational and in use by governments since October 2020.

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