Why are people in Germany still struggling to get the digital Covid vaccine pass from pharmacies?
Residents across Germany are still facing problems getting hold of their EU digital vaccination certificate after a system failure. What exactly is going on?
German pharmacies had to stop issuing digital vaccination certificates around July 22nd due to potential security issues in accessing the German Pharmacists’ Association web portal – which is used to generate the certificate.
But the Health Ministry announced late on July 23rd that pharmacies were gradually gaining access to the web portal.
They said it would take "a few days" for all pharmacies to be able to give out the passes again after the pause.
But this week people are still having difficulties getting hold of the digital certificate - and many pharmacies which are able to access the system are dealing with a large backlog of customers.
It comes at an especially tricky time as many people are going on holiday and need to have their digital EU Covid certificate for travel.
Zoë Noble, a British photographer based in Berlin, told The Local: "I booked my flight back to the UK last week once the quarantine was lifted but I needed to digitise my paper vaccination passport as the UK only accept these.
"I went to four different pharmacies over the course of a week and they all said the server was down so they were unable to digitise my passport. I managed to find a place yesterday in the East Side Mall that said it was working but it has been an incredibly frustrating week. I was really worried I wouldn't be able to travel back home to see my family for the first time in two years."
People have been able to obtain the digital EU Covid health pass for free from most pharmacies since June 14th. On July 8th, this was expanded to include people who have recovered from Covid and also had their first jab.
Everyone who is fully vaccinated can receive the certificate that contains a QR code, which can be scanned into a smartphone and onto the CovPass or Corona Warn app.
The move is intended to offer a simplified, EU-wide system for proving your Covid vaccination status. It can be used for cross-border travel throughout the EU, as well as for proof when it is needed in Germany.
People have been concerned about travelling without the digital certificate.
Yes, I've tried twice recently and been told that the entire RKI system is down for the foreseeable...— Kate Ferguson (@KateKatharina) August 3, 2021
Twitter users shared photos of pharmacies' notices saying they were unable to provide the digital vaccine pass. The photo below says there is a "nationwide technical disturbance".
Why did pharmacies stop issuing certificates?
An investigation by the newspaper Handelsblatt found that forged documents could be used to generate ‘guest access’ for a non-existent pharmacist on the portal and use this access to secure certificates for unauthorised third parties.
Oh my GOD the DRAMA. I tried and tried for two weeks. Eventually I solved the problem by going to a late night Apotheke. Most Apothekes close by 6.30pm, so if you can get someone to try the system after that, you can get through.— Felicity Carter (@FelicityCarter) August 3, 2021
So why are pharmacies still having trouble?
The Health Ministry said the issue is fixed and work is underway to increase security when giving out vaccination certificates.
But according to Südwestrundfunk, pharmacies still have to make updates to their IT system in order for things to work smoothly. And this can mean it will take longer to get back into action.
A spokeswoman from the Health Ministry told The Local: "The vaccination certificates are gradually being issued as QR codes by the vaccination centres, doctors and pharmacies."
What should people do if they can't get it?
Although there are still issues at many pharmacies, some are able to give out the digital certificate. So call around before you try to get it and you will likely find one.
If you were vaccinated at a centre or a doctor you can also try and get the certificate with the QR code there. Some centres are also sending out the certificate by mail to those who haven't got it already.
In Germany, getting the digital vaccine certificate is not mandatory - people can also use their ‘yellow booklet’ as evidence of vaccination.
A spokeswoman from the Health Ministry said: "If vaccinated persons do not have a digital vaccination certificate or have lost it, the vaccination certificate via the well-known 'yellow booklet' is still possible and valid."
But the paper version may not be accepted in other countries as evidence when travelling, so you'd have to check in advance.