In response to a series of highly publicized cases of COVID-19 deaths allegedly caused by unvaccinated hospital workers, the Italian government issued a decree Wednesday making vaccination mandatory for all health care workers who interact with the public.
According to the terms of the decree, where possible, health care workers who refuse the vaccine will be reassigned to roles that do not require interaction with the public. Where that is not feasible, those workers are subject to being suspended without pay for the remainder of the year.
Legal experts in Italy were unclear whether the decree would pass muster under Italy's constitution, and legal challenges to it are widely expected. Still, the government of Italy, which has seen one of the highest death and case fatality rates in the world, is determined to stamp out resistance to vaccination among its health care workers, which remains high.
Overall, the EU has lagged far behind the United States and United Kingdom in vaccination rates, which many experts blame for a recent wave of infections that has led to a third wave of lockdowns on the European continent. The French government announced earlier this week that the country would head back into a full lockdown this weekend for at least four weeks. Italy has extended its lockdown orders through the end of April and Germany may soon head into another hard lockdown as well.
The Italian health care issue has been a particularly thorny one for the Italian government. Some estimates suggest that as many as 15% of all health care workers in the country refused the vaccine when it was offered, and Italy has specific laws in place that theoretically protect workers in any industry from being fired for refusing medical treatments.
Additionally, it is very difficult to fire health care workers for any reason under Italy's laws. However, a rash of outbreaks at Italy's hospitals that were traced to unvaccinated nurses who had cared for medically frail patients provided the impetus for Italy's government to act.
Many in the United States also worry that such a regime will inevitably come to America, in particular for certain industries. Some companies in the United States are reportedly considering making vaccination for their employees mandatory, which would be generally legal in most United States, with certain exceptions for things like sincerely held religious beliefs.