Italy Plans to Allow Unvaccinated Health Care Workers to Return to Work

Italy Plans to Allow Unvaccinated Health Care Workers to Return to Work
People gather during a protest against the so-called Green Pass at Circo Massimo in Rome on Oct. 15, 2021. (Tiziana FabiI/AFP via Getty Images)
Bill Pan

Italian health care workers who have been suspended for rejecting COVID-19 vaccines will soon be able to return to work, the European country's top health official said on Oct. 28.

Orazio Schillaci, who was appointed by Italy's newly formed ruling coalition to lead the Ministry of Health, said his administration is working on a measure that would reinstate unvaccinated doctors and nurses before the end of the year.

"Six months after the suspension of the state of emergency and in consideration of the level of COVID-19 contagion, Health Minister Orazio Schillaci considers it necessary to initiate a progressive return to normality in activity and behavior, based on criteria of responsibility and respect for the laws in force," a statement on the ministry's website reads.

Schillaci also announced that the ministry will no longer provide a daily bulletin with numbers of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. Instead, that information will be updated on a weekly basis.

The announcement, at least in part, is tied to the "worrying shortage of medical personnel," according to the ministry.

The changes mark a departure from the policies of Schillaci's predecessor, Roberto Speranza, who allowed hospital employers to suspend without pay any employee who refused to get vaccinated.

Under Speranza and previous Prime Minister Mario Draghi, whose government imploded in the midst of an energy crisis and a worsening economic outlook, all public and private sector workers must get a COVID "green pass" before they go to work. Italians who ignore the order and go to work without proof of vaccination or a negative test or recovery from the virus are suspended on no pay and fined up to 1,500 euros (about $1,500).

The "green pass" policy was considered to be among the most restrictive in Europe. While some European countries have made COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for their health workers, none have implemented a vaccine passport system for all employees.

"We are making these choices in order to restrict the unvaccinated as much as possible, as this is what is causing the burden on our hospital system," Speranza told media outlets earlier this year.

The new prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, has vowed to not inherit the Draghi administration's pandemic response, saying that despite the harsh restrictions placed on millions of citizens, the country nevertheless suffered the highest COVID-19 death and infection rates in Europe.

"Something clearly didn't work there," Meloni said on Oct. 25 in her very first speech to parliament as prime minister. "That's why I want to say that in no way will we imitate this model."