Italy’s COVID-19 vaccine bookings increase by a third after government makes the Green Pass mandatory for all employees

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A woman shows number three when she received the third shot of Pfizer’s Comirnaty vaccine at the Eastman Clinic in Rome on September 16.

Alessandra Tarantino / The Associated Press

Italy’s vaccine bookings have skyrocketed since last week when the Italian government broke up with the rest of Europe by insisting that all employees show a COVID-19 health card or be suspended from work.

Over the weekend, the Italian government’s vaccine tsar, Francesco Paolo Figliuolo, said reservations for the first dose of the vaccine on Saturday were up 35 percent from a week earlier. “At the national level, there has been an overall increase in bookings for the first dose of between 20 and 40 percent,” he said.

The vaccine rush comes days after the government required all of the country’s workforce – public and private – to provide evidence of vaccination, recent recovery from infection, or a recent negative test, effective October 15.

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If employees fail to present the so-called Green Pass, they can be suspended from work without pay and be fined up to 1,500 euros (2,250 US dollars) even though they cannot be fired. Employers who do not verify that employees have a Green Pass face fines of up to € 1,000. The requirement affects Italy’s 23 million workers.

The Vatican announced on Monday that the Green Pass is required for all visitors.

The Green Pass is in fact a national vaccination mandate that aims to make the life of the unvaccinated unbearable. In order to avoid the compulsory vaccination, employees who have never been infected would have to perform a COVID-19 test every 48 hours. Such tests are no longer free in Italy. The rapid tests in pharmacies cost from 15 euros. The more accurate PCR tests are at least twice as expensive.

Previously, vaccines were only required for medical staff and the green pass rule only applied to teachers and other school staff.

The Italian government is betting that there will be little or no vaccination reaction. While there is great hesitation in vaccinating in Italy – right-wing populist parties refer to mandatory vaccines as an attack on freedom – it is not as great as in France and some other countries in the European Union. Italians are used to vaccines. Measles, hepatitis B, polio and tetanus, among others, are mandatory.

For the most part, Italians have adopted the COVID-19 vaccines; after a slow start earlier this year, the country has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, comparable to Canada. About 74 percent of those over 12 are fully vaccinated, although the rate is relatively low in some regions like Sicily. Around 3.5 million Italians over 50 still need to be vaccinated.

Italy’s goal is to hit 80 percent by the end of September and keep going. “I don’t know if we can speak of herd immunity, but we have to be 90 percent vaccinated to keep the virus under control,” Figliuolo said.

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Italy’s Green Pass system is the most comprehensive in Europe and marks one of the world’s most difficult approaches to dealing with a pandemic that is particularly devastating for Italians. “This has never been done in Europe,” said the Minister for Public Administration, Renato Brunetta. “We are taking the lead internationally.”

According to the civil protection ministry, 130,310 Italians have died of COVID-19 since the first lockdowns in February 2020. That is the second highest value in Europe after Great Britain. Around 4.6 million Italians are infected.

While the new cases are far from their spring peaks, they began to rise again in July when the highly contagious Delta variant took over. Italy reported 3,838 new cases on Sunday. Health officials fear that reopening the school this month will spike infection rates and fill intensive care units.

Italy launches its third-dose campaign this week to people at risk such as cancer patients and transplant recipients.

Italy’s move to effectively make vaccines mandatory for all employees is intended to avoid further restrictions and possibly bans and build on economic gains from last year. The pandemic pushed the G7 country into deep recession in 2020. This year, Italy’s economy is expected to grow 5.9 percent, but according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

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