Italy expands Covid vaccine requirement to teachers, police and rescue workers

From Wednesday, all those working in Italy's schools, police, military, or emergency services must be vaccinated against Covid-19, with sanctions for those who refuse.

A civil protection department workers at a Covid vaccination centre.
Italy's Covid vaccination mandate will be extended to more key workers from Wednesday, December 15th.Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP

The vaccination mandate for key workers first announced in November will be effective as of Wednesday December 15th.

After making vaccinations mandatory for all healthcare workers in April, the Italian government expanded the requirement to more groups in a decree signed into law on November 26th.

This includes health administrative staff, school teachers and administrative staff, military personnel, police and emergency services personnel.

READ ALSO: Italy set to extend Covid state of emergency into 2022

According to additional details published in a circular by Italy’s interior ministry on December 2nd, school staff who meet the criteria for mandatory shots include those in the national education system as well as those employed by private schools and children’s educational services. Vaccination is also a requirement for school managers.

All workers in Italy’s defence, security, emergency rescue, and juvenile and community justice sectors, as well as police, intelligence officers and prison guards, are obliged to undergo a full immunisation cycle.

Anyone in this category who refuses to get vaccinated will face sanctions, which can include suspension from work without pay.

Police officers who refuse to be vaccinated would also have to turn in their badge and any state-issued weapons and handcuffs.

Managers will have to check that staff comply with the new obligation. For those who can’t show proof of the vaccination, or a certificate to show why the injection isn’t needed or postponed, there will be “the immediate suspension of the right to carry out work, without disciplinary consequences and with the right to the preservation of the employment relationship”.

Fines of between €600 and €1,500 are imposed for those failing to follow the rules, while managers who don’t carry out checks for either public or private companies risk penalties of between €400 to €1,000, reported Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

The mandatory Covid-19 vaccination covers the entire vaccination cycle, including the obligation to get a third dose or booster shot, according to the November 26th decree.

The booster is available five months after the last dose, and must be given “within the validity period of the Covid-19 green certificates”, which means within nine months of the last shot.

Also from Wednesday, health and social care personnel who are already vaccinated will be required to get the booster dose.

The booster shot has been available to everyone in Italy aged 18 and over from December 1st.

Almost 86 percent of the eligible population over 12 years old has now completed the vaccination cycle in Italy, while some 12.7 million booster shots have been administered so far according to the latest official figures.

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Italy’s deputy health minister under fire after casting doubt on Covid vaccines

Opposition leaders called for health undersecretary Marcello Gemmato to resign on Tuesday after the official said he was not "for or against" vaccines.

Italy's deputy health minister under fire after casting doubt on Covid vaccines

Gemmato, a pharmacist and member of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party, made the remark during an appearance on the political talkshow ReStart on Rai 2 on Monday evening.

READ ALSO: Covid vaccines halved Italy’s death toll, study finds

In a widely-shared clip, the official criticises the previous government’s approach to the Covid pandemic, claiming that for a large part of the crisis Italy had the highest death rate and third highest ‘lethality’ rate (the proportion of Covid patients who died of the disease).

When journalist Aldo Cazzullo interjects to ask whether the toll would have been higher without vaccines, Gemmato responds: “that’s what you say,” and claimed: “We do not have the reverse burden of proof.”

The undersecretary goes on to say that he won’t “fall into the trap of taking a side for or against vaccines”.

After Gemmato’s comments, the president of Italy’s National Federation of Medical Guilds, Filippo Anelli, stressed that official figures showed the Italian vaccination campaign had already prevented some 150,000 deaths, slashing the country’s potential death toll by almost half.

Vaccines also prevented eight million cases of Covid-19, over 500,000 hospitalisations, and more than 55,000 admissions to intensive care, according to a report from Italy’s national health institute (ISS) in April 2021.

Gemmato’s comments provoked calls for him to step down, including from the head of the centre-left Democratic Party, Enrico Letta.

“A health undersecretary who doesn’t take his distance from no-vaxxers is certainly in the wrong job” wrote the leader of the centrist party Action, Carlo Calenda, on Twitter.

Infectious disease expert Matteo Bassetti of Genoa’s San Martino clinic also expressed shock.

“How is it possible to say that there is no scientific proof that vaccines have helped save the lives of millions of people? You just have to read the scientific literature,” Bassetti tweeted. 

In response to the backlash, Gemmato on Tuesday put out a statement saying he believes “vaccines are precious weapons against Covid” and claiming that his words were taken out of context and misused against him.

The Brothers of Italy party was harshly critical of the previous government’s approach to handling the Covid crisis, accusing the former government of using the pandemic as an excuse to “limit freedom” through its use of the ‘green pass’, a proof of vaccination required to access public spaces. 

But since coming into power, Meloni appears to have significantly softened her stance.

Her appointee for health minister, Orazio Schillaci, is a medical doctor who formed part of the team advising the Draghi administration on its handling of the pandemic.

Schillaci, a former dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery at Rome’s Tor Vergata University, has described the former government’s green pass scheme as an “indispensable tool for guaranteeing safety in university classrooms”.

Speaking at a session of the G20 on Tuesday, Meloni referenced the role of vaccines in bringing an end to the Covid pandemic.

“Thanks to the extraordinary work of health personnel, vaccines, prevention, and the accountability of citizens, life has gradually returned to normal,’ the prime minister said in a speech.