COVID certificates expire nine months since primary vaccination

Italian Roma Capitale police officers check the QR code confirming that people received the Covid-19 vaccine, in Rome, Italy, 06 December 2021. [EPA-EFE/GIUSEPPE LAMI]

As of 1 February, the EU Digital COVID Certificate will only be valid for nine months after the last dose of the primary vaccination cycle according to the European Commission.

The new rule applies to those using the certificate for intra-EU travel and does not include booster doses, the announcement made on Tuesday (21 December) stated.

When the EU Digital COVID Certificate was introduced in mid-June this year, it was up to member states to decide how long to accept the vaccination certificates in the context of travel. But this will change starting 1 February. 

For a single-dose vaccine, this means 270 days from the first and only shot. For a two-dose vaccine, it means 270 days from the second shot, or, in line with the vaccination strategy of the member state of vaccination, the first and only shot after having recovered from the virus. 

Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said that “a harmonised validity period for EU Digital COVID Certificate is a necessity for safe free movement and EU level coordination.” She added that “its coherent use across the EU” is the reason for the certificate’s success. 

Even though new rules apply for travel purposes, the Member States using the certificates at the national level are encouraged to align them to these new rules “to provide certainty for travellers and reduce disruptions”.

In the Commission’s press release, it states that “the new rules will ensure restrictions are based on the best available scientific evidence as well as objective criteria”. It is hoped that this will ensure the functioning of the Single Market and will provide clarity for EU citizens in the exercise of their right to free movement.

Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders said that “unilateral measures in the Member States would bring us back to the fragmentation and uncertainties we have seen last spring”. He continued: “The acceptance period of nine months for vaccination certificates will give citizens and businesses the certainty they need when planning their travels with confidence”.

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Why nine months?

The validity period is connected to booster shots. Based on the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) guidance, booster doses are recommended at the latest six months after the completion of the first vaccination cycle.

The certificate will remain valid for a grace period of an additional three months beyond those six months to ensure that national vaccination campaigns can adjust and citizens will have access to booster doses.

The certificate’s validity after the booster vaccination has not been set.

A Commission spokesperson said that boosters provide strong immunity, but it is not yet clear how long it lasts. 

“We will observe very closely to see how long immunity remains […] and we will follow up with additional measures, depending on the evidence that we find,” the spokesperson said. 

The Commission also adopted the rules for recording the booster doses in the certificate. A booster shot following a primary 2-dose vaccination will be recorded as “3/3”, while a booster after a single dose, as well as for one dose of a 2-dose vaccine administered to a recovered person, will be recorded as “2/1”. 

Kyriakides highlighted the need to “ensure that booster campaigns proceed as quickly as possible, that as many citizens are protected by an additional dose and that our certificates remain a key tool for travel and protection of public health”. 

The EU Digital COVID Certificate is called “a success story of the EU” by the Commission. So far, 807 million certificates were issued in the EU, and 60 countries and territories across five continents have joined the system.

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[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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