The Vatican is promoting vaccinations but won’t punish those who decline them.

The Vatican has clarified that employees who refuse a coronavirus vaccine will not be punished, after pushback over an internal decree suggesting that those who did not get vaccinated could be dismissed.

Vatican City State said in a statement on Thursday that “alternative solutions” would be found for employees who did not want to be vaccinated.

That came in response to a heated debate over a Feb. 8 directive signed by Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, the governor of the world’s smallest state. It referred to provisions in a 2011 law for Vatican employees stating that any who refuse preventive health measures can be punished, up to “the interruption of the relationship of employment.”

Pope Francis has said that coronavirus vaccinations are an ethical obligation, and called the refusal to accept them suicidal. Francis, 84, and his predecessor, Benedict VXI, 93, were among the first to be inoculated when Vatican City began its vaccination campaign last month.

The Feb. 8 decree called vaccinating “a responsible decision” for Vatican employees, and said that failure to do so was a risk for others and for public health.

Vatican City has about 5,000 employees, and many live in Italy, where vaccinations are not mandatory.

Cardinal Bertello’s office said on Thursday that its February decree had been issued to protect employees and the working environment “in the case of an event that could set off a public health emergency.” It also said that some jobs — especially those where employees come into contact with the public — might require vaccination. Failure to vaccinate in these cases, it said, would “allow for alternative work solutions for the interested party.”

The note said that the 2011 regulations did not have “a sanctioning or punitive nature” and were instead aimed at “striking a balance between protecting community health and individual freedom of choice.”

Pope Francis has made repeated appeals for the world’s wealthier nations to share vaccines with the most needy and vulnerable.

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