The government has announced that England’s NHS app will be ready to use as a vaccine passport from May 17 to coincide with the return of international travel.

Proof of Covid-19 vaccination status – which currently refers to a full course (i.e. two doses) of an approved vaccine – will be shown within the NHS app from Monday. The app will not yet store Covid-19 test results, though this feature will be added “in the future”.

The ‘vaccine passport’ will be incorporated into the NHS app which is used to book general appointments (not to be confused with the one currently being used to check-in to venues for contact tracing).

It is advised that people register with the app before booking any international travel, and “at least two weeks before your departure date and once you’ve had a full course of vaccinations”.

Travellers can instead get their vaccination status in paper format by calling the NHS helpline on 119 (from May 17). This should be done at least five working days after you have completed your course of the vaccine. A letter will then be posted to the address registered with your GP, but note that this can take up to five working days.

The government adds that you should not contact your GP surgery regarding this as “GPs cannot provide letters showing your Covid-19 vaccination status”. When it comes to data protection, the government states that the information is “held securely within the NHS app, and can only be accessed via the NHS login service. The app only shows your COVID-19 vaccination status in the form of your vaccination record”.

The government warns, however, that many countries still require travellers to show proof of a negative PCR test and may demand isolation on arrival, regardless of proof of vaccination. See a list of countries accepting vaccinated visitors in our feature:

Which countries are accepting vaccinated travellers?

The idea to convert the NHS app into a digital health passport was discussed earlier this year following the publication of the easing of lockdown measures in England. Last month, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed that England would use the existing NHS app as a vaccine passport for travel overseas.

Last week, the UK government confirmed its new green list of countries, which include Portugal, Gibraltar and Israel among the 12 destinations. Travellers arriving into England from these destinations will still have to take a test before they return, as well as on day two after their return, but they will not need to quarantine on arrival.

Heathrow airport has called for a significant expansion of countries included in the government’s green list and a “significant simplification of the ‘traffic light’ system” at the end of June, which would allow fully vaccinated people to travel without restrictions.

Meanwhile, airports and airlines have called for the EU Digital Green Certificates to begin being issued “by the end of June at the very latest”. The proposals for a certificate to facilitate free movement within the EU were unveiled in March, and France became the first EU country to introduce a digital travel certificate, with trials of the TousAntiCovid app, in April.

Spain’s Tourism Minister Fernando Valdes Verelst announced at the World Travel and Tourism Council’s Global Summit last month that Spain would be ready to use the digital certificate in June to welcome visitors from abroad. He added that a pilot programme will take place in May at all 46 Spanish airports.

For a look at the pros and cons of “vaccine passports”, and the different options being developed, see our recent features: