European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on Sunday that because the U.S. is using vaccines that are approved by the European Medicines Agency, the European Union will accept proof of vaccination to allow Americans to visit this summer, “because one thing is clear: All 27 member states will accept, unconditionally, all those who are vaccinated with vaccines that are approved by E.M.A.”
The specific timeline hasn’t been set and depends “on the epidemiological situation, but the situation is improving in the United States, as it is, hopefully, also improving in the European Union.”
And it’s also not yet clear what sort of documentation will be used,
Technical discussions have been going on for several weeks between European Union and United States officials on how to practically and technologically make vaccine certificates from each place broadly readable so that citizens can use them to travel without restrictions.
These discussions are continuing, officials in Brussels said, and it is possible that a low-tech solution would be used in the near future to enable people to travel freely on the basis of vaccination.
While the blessing of the European Union doesn’t require a country to open its borders, re-opening is expected to include Spain, Italy, and Portugal in addition to France and Greece.
It’s not yet clear how U.S. vaccination records will be validated, or what standards the U.S. might use to waive testing requirements for those entering the country by air. The U.S. allows those recently recovered from Covid-19 to skip a virus test, while vaccinated travelers cannot. Much of Europe has used AstraZeneca vaccines, which aren’t approved in the U.S.
And of course no one yet knows how long they’ll consider vaccination to be valid for, and there are not yet any approved boosters. No details have yet been announced regarding children under 16, who aren’t yet approved for vaccination either (children aren’t at much risk and young children probably spread the virus less than adults, but could be carriers).
In a way the announcement is almost anti-climactic. Iceland opened up, and so did Greece. France announced it planned to do so. Sure, the U.K. – which isn’t part of the E.U. or Schengen Area – has been working on travel corridors to allow flights between London and certain U.S. cities. But the decision to re-open had effectively already been made. Some national leaders just hadn’t gotten the memo yet, or figured out how to make the announcement.
Countries are largely looking to re-open, at least in Europe and in places that are heavily dependent on tourism. Proof of vaccination is one way to do that while still presenting a process that lets leaders appear responsible in case the pandemic heads in the wrong direction.