Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI / POOL / AFP

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Friday, March 26th, the government would take action against healthcare workers who refuse to be vaccinated against coronavirus, following new reports of infections in hospitals.

“The government intends to intervene,” Draghi told a news conference. “It’s absolutely not good that unvaccinated workers are in contact with sick people.”

The prime minister said Justice Minister Marta Cartabia was preparing regulation, likely a decree, but the details had not yet been determined.

On Thursday, March 25th, Liguria region president Giovanni Toti called for a national law after at least 12 people were infected with coronavirus at two hospitals in the area due to two unvaccinated health workers.

“In light of the need to protect citizens at a fragile time, such as hospitalisation, there may be the legal conditions, and also political, for a measure,” Toti said.

“It’s clear that we need a national law, because we risk chaos in our hospitals in a few weeks,” he added, calling for a “clear regulatory framework”.

Italy has a small but significant “anti-vaxx” movement and some experts fear their numbers may swell following safety fears over the AstraZeneca coronavirus jab.

The use of the vaccine was suspended last week across several EU countries before the bloc’s regulator declared it safe.

How many health workers in Italy have opted not to be vaccinated is unknown, although vaccination is not mandatory.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on Friday, however, it amounted to a “very minimal” number of people.

PM’s vaccine next week?

In his news conference, the 73-year-old Draghi confirmed he was in line to get jabbed with the AstraZeneca vaccine. “I hope next week, I made a booking,” he said.

Italy was the first European country to be hit by the coronavirus pandemic 13 months ago and has recorded more than 105,000 deaths.

However, it has struggled with its vaccination campaign, as logistical and organisational gremlins added to EU-wide supply shortages.

Italy is particularly lagging behind on vaccinations for the elderly, despite them being at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus.

The country has administered 8.7 million doses and fully vaccinated just under 2.8 million people – less than five percent of the total population of 60 million.

For people aged 80 and above, full vaccination rates range from 41.2 percent in South Tyrol to 6.2 percent in Sardinia, according to the GIMBE health think tank.

Sputnik calls

Draghi also commented on missing vaccine deliveries from AstraZeneca, and on rival claims over them from Britain and the EU.

London and Brussels should reach a settlement “rather fast”, because “neither … wants to fight in court for I don’t know how many years, 10 or 20”, he said.

Last week, Italian police found 29 million AstraZeneca doses in a factory south of Rome, raising suspicions about their final destination.

AstraZeneca denied media reports that they were destined for Britain, insisting that they were set to be delivered to the EU and the developing world.

With vaccine deliveries falling short in Italy, some regional politicians have called for authorities to also use Russia’s Sputnik jab.

But Draghi sounded sceptical, as he noted that the European Medicines Agency was still studying its safety and effectiveness.

It will not be completed “before three or four months”, so “if things go well, the [Russian] vaccine will not be available before the second half of the year”, he said.