European Union member states will aim to agree on digital vaccination certificates to ease travel in the bloc by June 21st, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has said.
“The timetable now would be that we all hope that by the 21st of June… there is an agreement,” Mr Rutte told journalists following a meeting of EU leaders.
Some member states would start using the system immediately, but others would wait as late as August as the 27 governments have agreed there would be a six-week period in which to implement the system, he said.
“For the Netherlands, we would do that as quickly as possible after 21st of June,” Mr Rutte said.
The so-called green digital certificates would show if the bearer has been vaccinated, has tested negative for Covid-19, or has recovered from the illness. Member states can choose to exempt such people from health restrictions such as quarantine or testing requirements.
The system is strongly supported by member states where summer tourism is important for the economy, but some northern countries are more hesitant due to concerns about discrimination and the risk of spreading vaccine-resistant Covid-19 variants through travel.
Agreement has not yet been reached on some elements of the system, including how to define people who have recovered from Covid-19. “Between now and 21st of June some big decisions need to be taken,” Mr Rutte said.
Work is already advanced on building the digital infrastructure required to link countries up to the system, with the first technical trials of the system due later this month.
An Irish Government source said the EU is hopeful of having a green cert in place for the Schengen area on the Continent by late June.
Officials here will now assess whether Ireland will opt in to the system and when that would happen.
Meanwhile, the EU has sealed a deal to buy 900 million BioNTech-Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine doses with the option to add 900 million more, the European Commission has announced.
“Other contracts and other vaccine technologies will follow,” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen wrote on Twitter as she announced the deal.
The doses are for delivery between 2021 and 2023 and are intended for use by member states as booster shots against the illness and to allow for the vaccination of children and teenagers if approved by regulators.
In addition, the pharmaceutical companies are developing updated vaccines to combat resistant new variants of Covid-19, and future doses will be tailored to address this.
The deal confirms a shift towards using an mRNA vaccine in the EU’s inoculation strategy, as evidence mounts of high efficacy in halting the spread of the virus, and because they have had fewer manufacturing delays than the viral vector AstraZeneca jab.
The bloc’s current vaccine deliveries put it on course to vaccinate 70 per cent of its adult population by July – catching up with the United States, where vaccine hesitancy is slowing rollout. Some member states including Ireland may hit the target early.
The large order will allow EU member states to donate or re-sell doses if they wish, Ms von der Leyen said.
“The contract . . . includes the possibility for the member states to donate or resell doses,” the Commission chief told journalists following the summit.
“The amount of doses is so large in order to be able to also serve our neighbourhood, for example.”
The announcement came as EU leaders including Taoiseach Micheál Martin met in Porto in Portugal to discuss the vaccine rollout and economic recovery from the pandemic.
In a joint declaration, the EU leaders declared a commitment to use the continent’s €750 billion Covid-19 stimulus package to foster a “fair, sustainable and resilient recovery” and promote good-quality jobs.
“As Europe gradually recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, the priority will be to move from protecting to creating jobs and to improve job quality,” the statement read.
“We will prioritise action to support young people, who have been very negatively affected by the Covid-19 crisis, which has profoundly disrupted their participation in the labour market as well as their education and training plans.”
The Pfizer purchase announcement comes after it was announced that Ireland is to purchase almost 10 million doses of Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine in 2022 and 2023 at a cost of €191 million under plans which were approved by Cabinet on Tuesday.
The vaccines are part of an EU additional purchase agreement with the pharmaceutical giant and are to be bought for the possibility that booster jabs are needed in the years ahead.
Under the EU agreement Ireland would secure approximately 4.9 million doses in 2022 and the same again in 2023.
This would be enough to fully vaccinate approximately 2.45 million people with two doses.
Ireland will also retain the option of securing an additional 9.8 million doses over the time period.