The Vatican has effectively made Covid-19 vaccination mandatory for its employees, warning those who decline to receive the shot that they could face dismissal.

In a seven-page decree, Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, head of the commission governing Vatican City State, said that getting the jab was “the responsible choice” and that those who refuse to do so could risk termination. The guideline points to a 2011 law which stipulates that employees who refuse “preventive measures” could be disciplined.

The new policy will allow people with legitimate health reasons to forgo the shot, but such personnel might be reassigned to positions that would have contact with fewer people. Their pay would remain the same even if the new assignment is a demotion.

Bertello himself tested positive for Covid-19 in December and was quarantined in his apartment until he was cleared to return to his regular duties.

Vatican City State, the world’s smallest independent nation-state, has a population of around 800 people, but employs more than 4,000 people.

Pope Francis has been an outspoken proponent of global vaccine drives against the virus. In an interview last month, the pontiff said that getting the shot was an “ethical choice” because “you are gambling with your health… [and] also gambling with the lives of others.”

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CNA adds:

The order also says that “the worker who refuses to undergo, without proven health reasons,” the administration of the vaccine “is subject to the provisions” found in article 6 of 2011 Vatican City norms on the dignity of the person and their fundamental rights regarding health checks in the employment relationship.

Article 6 of the norms says that a refusal can result in “consequences of various degrees that can go as far as the interruption of the employment relationship.”

The Governorate of the Vatican City State issued a note on Thursday regarding the Feb. 8 decree, stating that the reference to possible consequences for refusing to receive the vaccine “in no case has a sanctioning or punitive nature.”

It is “rather intended to allow a flexible and proportionate response to the balance between the health protection of the community and the freedom of individual choice without putting in place any form of repression against the worker,” the note said.