In the COVID-19 pandemic, governments have used various interventions,1,2 including COVID certificates as proof of vaccination, recovery, or a recent negative test, required for individuals to access shops, restaurants, and education or workplaces.3 While arguments for and against COVID certificates have focused on reducing transmission and ethical concerns,4,5 the effect of the certificates on vaccine uptake, public health, and the economy requires investigation. We construct counterfactuals based on innovation diffusion theory6 and validate them with econometric methods7 to evaluate the impact of incentives created by COVID certificates in France, Germany, and Italy. We estimate that from their announcement during summer 2021 to the end of the year, the intervention led to increased vaccine uptake in France of 13.0 (95% CI 9.7–14.9) percentage points (p.p.) of the total population, in Germany 6.2 (2.6–6.9) p.p., and in Italy 9.7 (5.4–12.3) p.p.; averted an additional 3,979 (3,453–4,298) deaths in France (i.e., 31.7%), 1,133 (-312–1,358) in Germany (5.6%), and 1,331 (502–1,794) in Italy (14.0%); and prevented gross domestic product (GDP) losses of €6.0 (5.9–6.1) billion in France, €1.4 (1.3–1.5) billion in Germany, and €2.1 (2.0–2.2) billion in Italy. Notably, the application of COVID certificates substantially reduced the pressure on intensive care units (ICUs) and, in France, averted surpassing the occupancy levels where prior lockdowns were instated. Overall, our findings are more substantial than predicted8 and may help to inform decisions about when and how to employ COVID certificates to increase vaccination and thus avoid stringent interventions, such as closures, curfews, and lockdowns, with large social and economic consequences.