Italy—one of the countries hardest hit by COVID-19 worldwide—enacted a sweeping new vaccine mandate on Friday, requiring all public and private workers to be vaccinated or else lose pay. In one of the strictest statutes in the Western world, Italy is mandating its entire labor force to provide proof of the shot or submit frequent negative COVID-19 tests or proof of recent recovery from the virus via a government-issued health pass before returning to workplaces. Italian workers who do not have the Green Pass, activated by cell phone, would have to take unpaid leave, and those who do not comply with the new rules face fines of up to 1,500 euros ($1,760).
Eighty percent of Italians over age 12 are already fully vaccinated, but the mandate will impact approximately 3 million people who have not. Protests opposing the order broke out in major cities, including among dockworkers in Trieste, who threatened to strike. But according to The New York Times, there were far fewer protestors than Green Pass opponents had hoped for. “More than anything,” the Times noted, “they seemed to underscore that the Green Pass was now a fact of Italian life.”
Whether a similar measure would meet the same degree of acceptance in the U.S. remains to be seen. The tension between public health and personal freedom feels as acute as ever in the States. Mask mandates for adults and children have sparked enough protest, never mind resistance to the shot: Unlike in Italy, only 56.6% of all Americans are fully vaccinated. Still, President Biden is intensifying his efforts, issuing a stricter mandate of his own last month requiring most all federal employees get COVID-19 vaccinations or submit regular negative tests and pushing companies with 100 or more employees (about two-thirds of the labor force) to do the same. “We’ve been patient,” Biden said in a news conference last month, addressing unvaccinated Americans. “But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us.”
The backlash to Biden’s decree was swift and strong, sparking protests and threats of legal action from Republican legislators. But the data is thus far on the president’s side, as vaccine mandates that put people’s paychecks on the line do, indeed, seem to work. As Vogue’s Emma Specter recently wrote in a piece about vaccine mandates and health care workers: “At Novant Health in North Carolina, for example, where 375 workers were suspended last week for not complying with vaccine mandates, 99% of the over-30,000-person staff is vaccinated, with 200 people agreeing to get the shot as a direct result of the vaccine mandate.” Similarly, “in New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered a vaccine mandate for adults working in public schools, about 97% of principals, 95% of teachers, and 87% percent of non-teaching school staff had received at least one shot as of late this month.”
The mandate is already working in Italy too: the Times reports “more than 500,000 previously reluctant people—much higher than expected—have gotten inoculated since the government announced its plan last month.”