What to do when your digital COVID-19 vaccination certificate expires | Science | In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 20.05.2022

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What to do when your digital COVID-19 vaccination certificate expires

Your digital COVID-19 vaccination certificate comes with an expiry date. But what happens when it expires? Do you need a booster? We provide some answers.

Digital vaccine app advertisement

A sign advertises Germany's COVID-19 vaccine certificate app at a pharmacy

The digital COVID certificate is the entry ticket for travel within the EU. But did you know that your vaccination pass could be expiring soon?

In the coming weeks, people will start receiving notifications via their COVID apps that their digital COVID vaccination certificates will expire soon.

The messages might be confusing at first glance, but they are just a technicality — all certificates expire after a year.

Your actual vaccination status won't be affected  — you are not considered unvaccinated because the certificate is expired. If you've got a warning that your vaccine certificate will run out soon, you can get a new one from the pharmacy or wait for the Robert Koch Institute to update the apps.

Corona warn app

Germany's Corona Warn app tells people when they have had contact with the virus

Am I fully vaccinated?

You are currently considered fully vaccinated in Germany if you've received both shots or a single dose of vaccine with a proven recovery.

The EU Commission has regulated that digital vaccination certificates across the bloc are valid for at least nine months after you've been fully immunized. After that, a booster shot is required.

The certificate for a booster vaccination, as well as the certificate for basic immunization for those under 18, are currently valid indefinitely.

New regulations will apply in Germany starting October 1. From this date, you will need three vaccine doses, or two vaccinations and a proven recovery, to be considered fully vaccinated.

Why are the rules changing?

Evidence shows that vaccines are protecting us against severe COVID-19 symptoms, hospitalization and death. However, vaccines are not hugely effective at stopping transmission of the virus.

Governments and health agencies are adjusting vaccination certification to account for new variants, immuno-compromised people who require stronger protection and waning immunity after a few months.

Workers at the health agency

The German health agency has developed a number of new digitized options for people to prove their vaccination statuts

Boosters offer better protection

The main scientific reason behind Germany's booster requirement planned for the start of October is better protection against COVID-19.

The science shows boosters are effective at helping to increase short-term immunity and at preserving immunity for longer.

"These boosters are very good at protecting against serious disease symptoms … A lot of protection you get from the first two to three doses will stay with you for a long time, but for the full benefit of vaccination you will need boosters,” said Peter Openshaw, a professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London.

A  large-scale study in April found that BioNTech-Pfizer's vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic COVID-19 was around 82% five months after the second dose. With a booster, that effectiveness jumped back up to 92%.

Fourth shot boosts protection even further

Experts suggest a fourth booster shot could prolong immunity even further. Several countries like Germany, the UK and Israel have already started recommending a fourth dose of the COVID vaccine for at-risk groups, including people over 70 and people with immunodeficiency.

Germany's health minister, Karl Lauterbach, has urged EU counterparts to back a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose, especially for at-risk people.

Studies have shown that a fourth shot boosted protection against COVID-19. An Israeli study published in March showed that people between 60 to 100 who received a fourth dose of the BioNTech-Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine had a 78% lower mortality rate from the disease than those who got only one.

Man receiving booster

A man in the Netherlands receives his second booster shot

Similarly, a UK trial published in May found a fourth shot found boosted protection against COVID-19 in those over 70 years of age.

Governments are still deciding whether to recommend fourth doses to a wider group of people later this year. Some experts say that the research only supports a fourth shot for at-risk people and more analysis is needed to justify offering a further booster jab to the wider population.

The good news is that current vaccines are still offering good protection against COVID, even as the virus has mutated.

"At the moment there doesn't seem to be a need for new vaccines against new COVID variants, as current vaccines seem to be just as effective at reducing serious disease," said Openshaw.

But for now the rules in Germany remain that you currently need two doses to be fully vaccinated until September 30, and three doses from October 1.

Edited by: Clare Roth

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