Every once in awhile, I try to write blog posts that are genuinely helpful. Today’s post is meant as a service to Americans in Germany, or possibly elsewhere in Europe, who are confounded by the new COVPass app and COVID-19 vaccine certificates. I know a lot of us are in helpful Facebook groups where this information is already available, but for those who aren’t… here’s my story about getting pandemic “legit”.
The COVPass app is compatible with Germany’s EU Digital COVID Certificate, which will make it valid in participating EU countries. Since many countries will require proof of vaccination, proven recovery from COVID-19, or a negative PCR test before you can visit, I highly recommend getting the certificates and the app if you can– especially if you plan to travel.
Edited to add on June 26th: The Corona Warn app is also acceptable for uploading the certificates. I just downloaded that app using my new German iTunes account, and I think I actually like it better than COVPass. It offers more functionality, such as warning of high infection rates, creating QR codes for events, and uploading tests. But for the purpose of uploading certificates, both apps work fine.
A couple of weeks ago, I read an interesting article on The Local: Germany about 50 year old John Camp, an American guy in Cologne who had gotten a COVID vaccine in the United States. When he got back to Germany with his white CDC vaccine card, he found that 8 out of 10 of German officials didn’t want to recognize it. Camp was significantly inconvenienced, because when he’d show the white CDC card– say when he wanted to eat at a restaurant or visit a gym– the locals would balk at accepting it because the CDC card is in English and lacks official stamps.
If you were to get your vaccine locally, you would get a yellow booklet (Impfbuch) that can be stamped. I got a very similar yellow booklet years ago, when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. I probably still have it somewhere in storage. It’s an internationally recognized document put out by the World Health Organization. Why the US isn’t also using the yellow booklet, I don’t know. In any case, if you’re American and you get your shot(s) on a military installation or at home in the States, you’ll get a white card instead of a yellow booklet. That can be problematic in some areas of Germany or other parts of Europe, especially where there aren’t a lot of Americans.
German officials at the Robert Koch Institut have introduced the COVPass app, which allows users to upload their vaccine info into smartphones. That makes it easier to prove vaccination status without having to carry a paper around everywhere. The problem is, the German app is only available in the German iTunes store or on Google Play (for Android users). Additionally, it can be accessed from the HUAWEI app gallery.
As an American, I have a US iTunes account. I don’t have an Android phone, and the HUAWEI app gallery proved to be utterly useless. Nevertheless, I managed to get the app loaded and functional last night. So here’s the step by step process on how I went about getting COVID-19 legit. This could work for you, too.
Step 1. I found a pharmacist to issue the official certificates with the QR code by searching the My Pharmacy Manager database for participating pharmacies.
According to the article in The Local: Germany, not all pharmacies are participating in issuing the COV-Pass QR codes at this time. Some pharmacies don’t have the system working yet, and others are apparently opting out (per the article dated June 14th– that may have since changed). So I used the pharmacy manager database to locate a participating pharmacy near me.
Step 2. Bill sent an email in German to a local pharmacist.
This is probably an unnecessary step for anyone living in an area where there are a lot of Americans. We only did it because in the article about John Camp, the American in Cologne, it mentioned that he went to six different pharmacies before he found one that could help him get certified with his American credentials. Now, this was a few weeks ago, and he’s in Cologne, which isn’t loaded with American residents. Things might have changed significantly since that article was written. But we didn’t have the time or inclination to go hunting for a pharmacy that could help us, so we pre-emptively asked the pharmacist if our American CDC cards would be a problem before we visited.
Bill only asked the pharmacist if she would recognize the CDC card because of the article I read. John Camp had explained that one of the SIX pharmacists he visited could make certificates, but would not recognize his Pfizer vaccine. This was because the US vaccine name “Pfizer” wasn’t listed in the drop down menu of available vaccines on the program the pharmacists are using. Even when Camp tried to tell the German pharmacist that the Pfizer shot is the same product as the locally named BioNTech vaccine, it was still a “no go”. So our pre-emptive email to the local pharmacist was simply to save us time and aggravation. This probably wouldn’t be an issue with the Moderna shots, which are named the same in Europe as they are in the States.
We went to Heidelberg last weekend, and knew we’d need our certificates for our trip. So, after we found a participating pharmacist in nearby Wallau, Bill sent her an email in German, which also wasn’t necessary since she was fluent in English. Bill explained that we’re U.S. citizens who live in Wiesbaden and we got our Moderna vaccines on post. He asked the pharmacist if she would recognize the CDC card. The pharmacist responded that it was no problem.
Step 3. Bill dropped off our paperwork at the participating pharmacy.
In our case, it took a couple of days to get the certificates made. That’s because on the day we requested them, the system crashed, because a whole lot of people were trying to access it at the same time. You probably won’t have to drop off your paperwork like we did. You’ll likely get same day service. However, I recommend bringing copies of the CDC card, in case you do get snagged by a system crash or some other unforeseen issue.
Don’t leave the actual card with the pharmacist; treat it like you would treat any other important document. The pharmacist we had was willing to make copies for us, but your mileage may vary. It’s probably best to be prepared with your own copies.
I didn’t have to be present when Bill dropped off the copies of our CDC cards. We also didn’t need our passports, although some people have said they’ve needed them. I suggest making a copy of the front page, just in case you run into a more anal retentive pharmacist than we did. You also might want to arrange to get the certificates a few days before a scheduled trip to allow for any extra time needed due to system crashes, logistical hassles, uptight officials, or other SNAFUs.
Step 4. Bill picked up our certificates with the QR codes.
Again, I didn’t have to be present. You may want to plan for a wait. When we got our certificates, there was a line of people standing outside of the pharmacy, either to get the certificates or pick up medications.
Step 5. I made a new Apple ID basing my location in Germany.
Right now, the German COVPass app isn’t available in the US iTunes store. I couldn’t easily switch my account to Germany, because I have unfinished subscriptions on Apple TV. If you don’t have unfinished Apple TV subscriptions, you can just change your account to Germany without making a new ID.
I couldn’t use Google Play because that only works for Android phones. So, what I did was make a new Apple ID. There are lots of articles on how to accomplish this technological feat. Here’s a link to instructions directly from Apple Support, although these aren’t the instructions I used.
It did take awhile to set up the new ID, and it was a bit of a pain in the ass to do it, mainly because the new ID wanted my billing information. Since I am an American in Germany, I have US credit cards and a US billing address, even though I have a German physical address. Not all Americans have this problem, because some have wisely set up German bank accounts. Alas, Bill didn’t listen to me when I suggested that he do that in 2014, so I frequently run into the address discrepancy issue.
Usually, using PayPal solves the address discrepancy problem, but that wasn’t the case last night. Apple recognized my APO address through PayPal, and would not let me input my German phone number with the American address. Eventually, I just made the account without the payment info and used an old US phone number. It still let me keep my German location. Since this app is doesn’t cost anything, it doesn’t matter. I probably wouldn’t want to buy anything from German iTunes anyway.
You may want to be near your other computer devices as you’re doing this. I had to use my iPad to get codes and confirm my identity on the phone. That’s another reason it took time. Yes, it was a pain in the ass– all in the name of security.
Step 6. Once I had the German iTunes account, I downloaded the COVPass app.
This was super easy.
Step 7. I aimed the QR reader through the COVPass app at the QR code on each of the certificates made by the local pharmacist.
Again… super easy! My phone immediately recognized the codes and I was gratified to see all of my info loaded into the phone. This will make traveling a whole lot easier! Hopefully, as Americans start coming back to Europe, the white CDC cards will be less of an issue. But, until then, the official app is a huge help.
Now that I have this app on my phone, I won’t need to carry the certificates with me, although I probably will. I have a tendency to dump stuff in my purse where it stays until I buy a new one. Since my current handbag is an expensive Harris Tweed number I bought in Scotland, I probably won’t be cleaning out my purse anytime soon. But this app will certainly make things easier for those who prefer to travel light.
One other note— once I got the app and uploaded my certificates through the QR reader, I didn’t need to keep my iTunes account set to Germany. I switched back to my US account and the app is still accessible and works as expected. How convenient!
Hopefully, this process will become even more streamlined in the weeks to come and you won’t need to follow as many steps as I did. In the meantime, I hope this guide is helpful! Wishing you happy, plentiful, and safe COVID-19 travels!