ROME (AP) – The Vatican takes Pope Francis’ pro-vaccine stance very seriously: Any Vatican employee who refuses to be vaccinated against a coronavirus without a valid medical reason risks being fired.
A February 8 decree signed by the Governor of Vatican City states that employees who withdraw from vaccination without a proven medical reason could be subject to a sanction of up to and including “the interruption of the employment relationship ”.
The directive cited the need to protect Vatican employees in the workplace, as well as guidelines issued by Francis’ COVID-19 advisory committee, which said individuals have a moral responsibility to be vaccinated “given that refusing a vaccine may pose a risk to others. “
The decree sparked heated debate on Thursday, as its provisions go far beyond the generally voluntary nature of COVID-19 vaccinations in Italy and much of the rest of the world. The Vatican is an absolute monarchy in the heart of Rome that operates independently of Italian law and Italian labor protections.
In a statement Thursday night responding to questions about the decree, the Vatican City state governorate office defended the measure but denied that it violated employee rights. He said it was released as an urgent response to a public health crisis and reflected the need to protect individual workers and the community at large.
According to the statement, the reference to a 2011 standard allowing the eventual dismissal of an employee who refuses preventive health care measures was not punitive in nature. It is rather a “tool providing a flexible and proportionate response to the need to balance collective health care with freedom of choice, without resorting to any repressive means vis-à-vis the employee”.
Some Catholics and other believers have expressed faith-based concerns about vaccines because some of those available were indirectly linked to research using aborted fetal cells. The Vatican’s Doctrine Office has ruled it morally acceptable for Catholics to receive COVID-19 vaccines, including those based on research using cells derived from aborted fetuses.
Vaccines are not mandatory in Italy, where the coronavirus epidemic in Europe erupted around the same time last year and which has the highest number of deaths from a pandemic of any European country except of Great Britain. Some doctors and nurses who have expressed anti-vaccine feelings or skepticism about the virus have been threatened with professional sanctions.
The Italian government’s bioethics committee said in November that while it could not rule out the need to require vaccines for members of highly exposed groups, such as medical staff, any decision to mandate COVID-19 injections must be “discussed within their professional associations and be dismissed as soon as there is no longer a significant risk for the collective.
The Vatican, which has around 5,000 employees, is on its way to becoming perhaps the first country to complete its adult vaccination campaign. The Holy See’s health service began immunizing staff members and their families in January with the Pfizer vaccine. Francis himself received the two necessary doses, and the Vatican has expanded its vaccine offering to cover homeless people in the region as well.
Francois often spoke of the need to ensure that vaccines are widely available, especially for the poor and marginalized.
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