As someone who travels frequently, I’ve got into the routine of doing my research about a destination well in advance. But, before my most recent trip, I got caught out, not by the widely reported delays, cancellations or strikes, but by something completely off-my-radar: an NHS admin error.
Remote working during the pandemic allowed me, like many, to sell my flat in London (where I had worked for eight years) and return to my Welsh homeland. I had my first two Covid jabs in London and my booster in Wales. As international borders began to open up, I started booking trips, excited at the prospect of visiting friends and family abroad.
Last month I returned from a brilliant last-minute trip to Mexico (where there are no Covid restrictions for travel), and had only a couple of days before I was due to head to France on a family holiday. I checked the requirements – passport (of course) and proof of being fully vaccinated (perfect, I’m fully jabbed).
Downloading my vaccine pass
I logged on to the NHS app to check everything was in order, only to see the dreaded “login failed” message. I followed the steps to bypass the app and log in online, only to be met with a second message: “There is a problem connecting to your GP surgery.”
To recover my pass, I would need to upload ID to prove my identity, but, as the message warned, that could take up to seven days. As I was sailing in 48 hours, I was starting to feel the pressure, but, to my relief, my ID was approved within a couple of hours, and my pass was granted. On checking the pass, I noticed something was missing. Where was my booster? It listed my first two doses only. France requires proof of booster if your second dose was given more than nine months ago. The pass was rendered useless.
Covid pass issues
I began a long and complicated series of calls and emails to every resource I could get my hands on, during which I found that my medical records had not been transferred, and my booster record had vanished entirely. Frustrated by a series of dead ends and with time slipping away, I decided the best way to proceed was to take a PCR. Because of my rural location and many testing centres closing, this meant a six-hour round trip to Birmingham to get the test, all in all costing me almost £140.
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “A small number of people who have moved between Wales and England have experienced issues with vaccination records not updating in their Covid Pass.
“If this occurs, people registered with a GP in Wales should contact the Welsh Vaccination Certification Service. Anyone registered with a GP in England should contact 119.” On reaching out to my health board, Hywel Dda, I was informed that the system of transferring medical records to Wales from outside the country involves hard-copy transfer, with no electronic process in place, which could explain why my records had not been updated almost three months later.
I am still currently working to have my records restored, with no indication from the NHS of when my complete pass may materialise. In the meantime, I’ve had to decline a trip to Amsterdam (where proof of booster is required) with friends in August, as I cannot enter the country until this is resolved. I’m also due to travel with my family to Singapore, and on to Australia to meet my baby niece for the first time (who was born during lockdown). It’s a very expensive trip, and a great source of worry – unless I get my Covid pass, I stand to lose upwards of £5,000, as I won’t be able to travel.
After weeks of chasing, then requesting quotes for this article, the Welsh Covid Vaccine Passport line has finally confirmed they now have the records to generate a pass, although it has still not materialised yet.
This is my Covid pass advice, so you don’t get caught out this summer…
Check your Covid pass before you book your travel
Check the app as soon as possible, ideally before you book, to make sure you can generate a pass. If the app is no longer working for you, upload photo ID as soon as possible, following the links provided. Even if it’s less than seven days until you travel, you may get lucky (as I did) and have it approved at short notice.
If your records are missing/you can’t access a pass…
If you’re registered with a GP in England, or were at the time you were vaccinated, call 119 for advice. If any of your vaccines are missing from your record, but you still have your vaccination/booster cards, you can book a vaccine validation appointment by choosing the vaccine booking option on 119 or visiting the NHS website.
You will need to enter your postcode to find your nearest centre, book an appointment and take your vaccination card and ID to get your records restored. For Wales, you can contact the Welsh Vaccination Certification Service on 0300 303 5667 or email [email protected], who should be able to advise you.
If all else fails…
If you have any issues obtaining a pass, and it’s too late to resolve them, then your best bet is to get a PCR/antigen test before travelling (if the rules of the country you’re visiting allow for it, the US and the Netherlands do not, for example). It will add a cost to your holiday, but will ensure you can travel, provide you get a negative result.
For more general advice, see our explainer on how to get a Covid pass for travel.