The Ministry of Health should adjust vaccination certificates to be valid

Relating to the content of certificates of the successful vaccination of Montenegrin citizens, the Centre for Civic Education (CCE) expresses doubts about the regularity of these certificates and their validity outside the borders of Montenegro and calls on the Ministry of Health to approach this process systematically, professionally and dedicatedly. The CCE has already expressed concern about the inexplicably slow vaccination process so far, while additional information indicates that, even at such a slow pace, the process has numerous deficiencies. This also raises doubts about the capacity of the competent Ministry of Health to complete this important process validly.

Namely, the review of the vaccination certificate, issued by the institutions administering immunizations in Montenegro, shows that these documents are not stamped and signed, and it is not noted that they are valid without stamps and signatures. Although the primary goal of immunization is the protection of citizens’ health and combating the coronavirus pandemic, it is indisputable that immunization should also contribute to the functioning of the economy and other social activities. This, inter alia, includes the need of citizens to move outside the borders of Montenegro, both due to business and private obligations, without jeopardizing their own or other people’s health. However, Montenegrin citizens who got vaccinated in Montenegro so far have received unverified certificates with incomplete data and made exclusively in the Montenegrin language.

CCE notes that, with the National Strategy for the Introduction, Distribution and Deployment of Covid-19 Vaccines in Montenegro, this Ministry of Health specified the appearance and content of these certificates to serve as an identification document that facilitates access to certain healthcare services and meeting other needs and requirements – education, travel, use of vacation, collective accommodation, etc. Also, the Strategy specifies that the design must be in line with the basic principles of the Strategy for the Communication Campaign and fit into the visual and other segments of the campaign. However, today’s appearance of the certificate is far from planned both in content and design, and the campaign had barely begun.

Attention must be paid to protection against counterfeiting, which has been neglected and opens space for numerous abuses. The Strategy envisages the use of QR (Quick Response) codes that would enable data collection, and the networking of the card with the COVID Vaccine Certificate, which is also omitted.

This indicates that the Ministry of Health does not apply its documents and, given that this is an issue of public importance, it is necessary to determine the specific and objective responsibility of employees and officials in the Ministry of Health.

In the immediate neighbourhood, in the countries where the immunization process has started, these procedures are followed and persons who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 receive bilingual certificates (in the language of the issuing country and English) with accompanying elements of their validity. For example, this is the case with certificates from neighbouring Serbia, with a note that immunization in Serbia is very efficient, with a well-designed campaign in which prominent individuals participate, with the provision of certificates that can be used outside the borders of Serbia.

CCE again urges the Government of Montenegro and the Ministry of Health to rationally spend resources and to prioritize adequate health crisis management, whose one of the most important segments is the purchase of vaccines and effective immunization, instead of dealing with duties of other investigative bodies and political-party staffing and tactics. Finally, it is necessary to empower multi-sectoral cooperation and strengthen professional capacities as soon as possible, because the Ministry of Health, with all its human, logistical and infrastructural resources, cannot fully carry out this process on its own, and the price for that is paid by all citizens.

Tamara Milaš, Human Rights Programme Coordinator