Italy plans mandatory third jabs for health workers as Covid infections soar

As new cases of Covid-19 have shot up among doctors and nurses, the Italian government is looking at extending the vaccine requirement for those working in healthcare.

A booster shot could be made mandatory for healthcare workers
A booster shot could be made mandatory for healthcare workers "very soon". Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

A proposal to make third doses of an anti-Covid vaccine mandatory for healthcare workers is expected to go before the Council of Ministers, Italy’s government cabinet, this week.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on Friday that a mandatory booster shot for medical professionals will come “very soon”, reports newspaper La Repubblica.

“Let’s speed up third doses to stop the fourth wave,” stated Speranza following the publication of health data showing a further worsening of the health situation across the country.

“The increase in infections is objective. What should we do? Let’s say it’s like realising that the water is rising. We have no time to lose,” he said. “We must play in advance, as this virus has taught us that it moves quickly.” 

READ ALSO: Italy to offer Covid booster jabs to all over-40s from December

All healthcare workers in Italy, including pharmacy staff, have been subject to a vaccine mandate since a law was passed in April, with those who refuse being reassigned to roles away from the public where possible or suspended without pay.

Any new obligation to get a booster shot is expected to cover the same healthcare staff as Italy’s initial vaccine mandate.

The move comes as health data shows the increase in infections among healthcare workers has tripled in the past two months.

From September to November, the incidence rate of Covid cases among healthcare workers rose by 192.3 percent, according to data publised on Friday in the latest report from the health ministry and the Higher Health Institute (ISS).

This group was among the first to be vaccinated as a priority at the beginning of 2021. In the last month up to November 14th, there were 2,736 cases compared to 2,396 in the previous month and 936 in the period of mid-August to mid-September.

Of these infections, 82 percent are nurses, the report found.

READ ALSO: Italy’s fourth Covid wave ‘can be reduced’, says health expert

Photo: Theo Rouby / AFP

The latest data showed that the protection offered by the vaccine drops considerably after six months – which may partly explain why this early-vaccinated group in particular is seeing a rise in contagion.

The vaccine’s coverage against infection has been found to drop to an average of 50.2 percent after six months, while within the six months after the last dose, protection remains at 75.7 percent on average.

READ ALSO: How to get a Covid-19 vaccine booster shot in Italy

“We are worried,” Speranza added, comparing Italy to other European countries. “Let’s look at those who are close to us, at Austria, with its nine million inhabitants and 12,000 cases a day – that’s like if we had 75,000 [cases per day in Italy].

“In Italy an increase is already happening and it is realistic to think that it will continue in the next few weeks,” he stated.

Noting that what’s happening in other European countries indicates a trend, he said that Italy cannot ignore the resurgence of coronavirus in neighbouring states.

“Our data are a little better than others because vaccination rates are higher. This gives us a small advantage,” added Speranza, referring to the 84 percent of the population over 12 years old who are now fully vaccinated.

On Monday, Health Undersecretary Andrea Costa played down reports that restrictions would be tightened further due to the increase and said the health situation in in Italy was “under control”.

READ ALSO: Is Italy likely to bring back Covid restrictions this Christmas?

“We should look to the coming weeks with confidence while being aware that we certainly have not emerged from the pandemic,” he told Radio 24.

But he added that Covid vaccines could still become obligatory for some, under plans the government has been considering since late summer.

The government has been considering making vaccination mandatory for more groups since September as it pushes to vaccinate 90 percent of the eligible population.

Authorities have so far given no indication as to if or when vaccinations could actually be made mandatory for more categories or for the general population.

Italy is currently offering a third dose to over-60s, the immunocompromised and medically vulnerable, health workers, the staff and residents of care homes, and those who received the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine more than six months ago.

Booster shots will be offered to everyone over the age of 40 in Italy from December 1st, while authorities aim to start offering a third dose to all age groups from early 2022.

For now, one anti-Covid measure is sure to stay in place: masks indoors.

“There is no doubt that they will remain. They have a relatively low social and economic cost, they are decisive. And they must also be worn outdoors if there are crowds. It is an obligation, let’s not forget,” Speranza said.

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Italy allows suspended anti-vax doctors to return to work

Italian heathcare staff suspended over their refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19 can now return to work, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni confirmed on Monday.

Italy allows suspended anti-vax doctors to return to work

Italy become the first country in Europe to make it obligatory for healthcare workers to be vaccinated, ruling in 2021 that they must have the jab or be transferred to other roles or suspended without pay.

That obligation had been set to expire in December, but was brought forward to Tuesday due to “a shortage of medical and health personnel”, Health Minister Orazio Schillaci said.

READ ALSO: Is Italy’s government planning to scrap all Covid measures?

Italy was the first European country to be hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, and has since registered nearly 180,000 deaths.

Schillaci first announced the plan to scrap the rule on Friday in a statement saying data showed the virus’ impact on hospitals  “is now limited”.

Those who refuse vaccination will be “reintegrated” into the workforce before the rule expires at the end of this year, as part of what the minister called a “gradual return to normality”.

Meloni said the move, which has been criticised by the centre-left as a win for anti-vax campaigners, would mean some 4,000 healthcare workers can return to work.

This includes some 1,579 doctors and dentists refusing vaccination, according to records at the end of October, representing 0.3 percent of all those registered with Italy’s National Federation of the Orders of Physicians, Surgeons and Dentists (Fnomceo) 

Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy party railed against the way Mario Draghi’s government handled the pandemic, when it was the main opposition party, and she promised to use her first cabinet meetings to mark a clear break in policies with her predecessor.