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German pharmacies to start offering digital vaccine certificates

From next week, many German pharmacies will be able to issue a digital vaccine certificate to people who have been inoculated against Covid-19.

German pharmacies to start offering digital vaccine certificates
A mock-up of the digital vaccine pass. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild-Pool | Soeren Stache

Starting June 14th, fully vaccinated people in Germany can visit some pharmacies with proof of their inoculation, and request a digital vaccination certificate.

This will contain a code which can then be scanned into a smartphone and transferred to an app. Results of Covid-19 tests or proof of recovery from a coronavirus infection can also be stored on the app.

It’s hoped that the health pass will make it easier for people to show proof when visiting facilities like gyms, hairdressers or during travel. At the moment people have to carry around their vaccination booklet. 

According to the Health Ministry, the voluntary app called ‘CovPass’ should be available in app stores for smartphones before Monday. 

What’s the background?

At the beginning of the year, the European Commission agreed that countries would launch a digital health record – now called the EU Digital Covid Certificate.

The EU hopes the certificates, which they say are not strictly “vaccine passports”, will make travel easier and safer, and boost the economies of tourism-dependent nations.

Member states, including Germany, are implementing their own systems for how residents can upload the vaccine certificate or Covid-19 health status onto a digital platform.

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Germany has recently been testing out the process in several vaccination centres, but this is set to be rolled out nationwide. 

Currently, more than 18 million people in Germany are fully vaccinated.

How can people who’ve already been vaccinated access the pass?

The website www.mein-apothekenmanager.de already has an overview of German pharmacies that offer free coronavirus rapid tests. In the coming days, pharmacies that issue vaccination certificates will be added so that people can search for one close to them.

People will have to bring proof of their vaccination and the pharmacies can then issue the digital certificate. They are issued free of charge. 

However, the traditional yellow vaccination booklet or Impfpass is still valid – the digital certificate is only a voluntary offer.

“We wanted to develop a tool as quickly as possible that pharmacies could use to digitise proof of vaccination in a secure and legally binding way,” said Thomas Dittrich, chairman of the German Pharmacists Association (DAV).

“The best way to bring proof of vaccination to people is via the pharmacy network close to their homes.”

To start with, the number of pharmacies offering the certificates “will probably be limited,” he said. However, Dittrich expects that “the number of pharmacies offering the certificate will very quickly be in the four-digit range”.

Health Minister Jens Spahn previously said that the digital pass will be offered in Germany by the end of June.

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Are people who’ve had the single J&J jab no longer fully vaccinated in Germany?

Germany's federal vaccine agency says that people who've had one dose of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine should no longer be classed as being fully vaccinated.

People queue for a vaccination in Quedlinburg, Saxony-Anhalt.
People queue for a vaccination in Quedlinburg, Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Matthias Bein

People who’ve had J&J, sometimes known as Janssen, used to have full vaccination status after a single dose of the vaccine. 

Since January 15th, however, a single dose of J&J should no longer count as full vaccination, according to the Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI), the country’s vaccine authority. 

In autumn last year the German government began recommending a second mRNA jab for people who’d had J&J – which many people thought was the booster vaccination. 

However, according to the PEI’s update on proof of vaccination within the Covid Protective Measures Exemption Ordinance and the Coronavirus Entry Ordinance, the second shot is needed to complete ‘basic immunisation’.

It is unclear at this stage if it means that people returning or coming to Germany from abroad with only one shot of J&J will be counted as partially vaccinated and therefore need to present tests or face other forms of barriers to entry. 

We are also looking into what this means for the various health pass rules in states, such as the 3G rules for transport. 

The Deutsches Ärzteblatt, a German-language medical magazine, said: “Special rules according to which one dose was recognised as a complete vaccination with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are no longer applicable.”

The Local has contacted the German Health Ministry for clarification on what this means for those affected. 

According to the latest government figures, 5.3 million doses of Johnson & Johnson have been given out in Germany so far in the vaccination campaign. 

The news will come as a shock to those who don’t know that they need another jab, or haven’t got round to getting their second vaccine yet. 

All other jabs – such as BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca – already require two jabs. 

People in Germany are seen as fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose. 

What about boosters?

As The Local Germany has been reporting, the German government said in December that people who’ve had J&J need a third shot three months after their second dose to be considered boosted.

A German Health Ministry spokesman told us last week that due to more vaccination breakthrough infections affecting people who’ve had the J&J vaccine, extra protection was needed.

“Therefore, after completion of the basic immunisation as recommended by STIKO, i.e. after administration of two vaccine doses (preferably 1x J&J + 1x mRNA), following the current recommendation of the STIKO, a further booster vaccination can subsequently be administered with a minimum interval of a further three months, as with the other approved Covid-19 vaccines,” the Health Ministry spokesman said. 

However, there has been much confusion on this front because some states have been accepting J&J and another shot as being boosted, while others haven’t.

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It is unclear if the new regulation will mean that states will all have to only accept J&J and two shots as being boosted. 

North Rhine-Westphalia, for instance, updated its regulations on January 16th and now requires that people who’ve had J&J and one shot have another jab to be boosted. 

Having a booster shot in Germany means that you do not have to take a Covid-19 test if you’re entering a venue, such as a restaurant or cafe, under the 2G-plus rules.

The Paul Ehrlich Institute said that proof of complete vaccination protection against Covid takes into account “the current state of medical science”. 

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