Paramedics work in a tent that was set up outside a hospital in Cremona, northern Italy. Claudio Furlan/Lapresse via AP

Italy’s cabinet passed a decree making the vaccine compulsory for health workers on Wednesday.

Hospitals can now suspend employees who refuse to be vaccinated for the rest of the year.

Unvaccinated health workers have been criticized following outbreaks inside some Italian hospitals.

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Italy made COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for all health workers on Wednesday, with those who refuse facing suspension without pay.

The decree, passed by the cabinet of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, is intended to prevent outbreaks in hospitals and protect patients.

“The aim of the measure is to protect as much as possible both medical and paramedical staff and those who are in environments that may be more exposed to the risk of infection,” the government said Wednesday, Reuters reported.

The moves comes following a number of outbreaks in hospitals that some believe were caused or accelerated by unvaccinated health workers.

In February, two workers at the Santa Maria della Misericordia hospital in Rovigo, who had refused to be vaccinated, were suspected of infecting patients and a number of workers at the Sant’Orsola hospital in Bologna were infected last month.

Last week, Draghi said that the rule change will ensure that vulnerable people in hospital are not put at risk.

“It is absolutely not OK that unvaccinated workers are in contact with the sick,” Draghi said at a press conference, according to The New York Times.

Wednesday’s order also contains a clause that allows hospitals to suspend employees who refuse to be vaccinated until the end of the year, and without pay, Reuters said.

Pharmacists are also expected to be vaccinated before working.

Making vaccines compulsory is a controversial subject in many countries, but Italian law allows for vaccines to be made mandatory.

A majority of Italians believe the COVID-19 vaccine should be compulsory for over 18s, according to a February 2021 survey from Ipsos.

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As well as protecting hospital patients, the decree also gives legal protection to those administering COVID-19 vaccine shots, Reuters said.

Last month, Italian doctors and nurses criticized a decision to place three healthcare workers under investigation for manslaughter after a vaccinated man died following his shot in Sicily.

As of Thursday morning, 10 million people in Italy have received at lease one dose of the vaccine, according to a tracker from the Corriere Della Sera newspaper.

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