When will a Covid-19 vaccine be available in Italy?

Italy is one of four European countries that have reserved millions of doses of a possible coronavirus vaccine. So when will it be available in Italy and who'll be the first to get it?

When will a Covid-19 vaccine be available in Italy?
Several Covid-19 vaccines are in development, including this one by Sinovac in China. Photo: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP

Along with Germany, France and the Netherlands, Italy has signed an agreement with pharmaceutical group AstraZeneca to guarantee the supply of 300 million doses of an experimental vaccine that the company is developing with Oxford University in the UK.

While the vaccine is still being tested, here's what we know about it so far.

How does the vaccine work?

Oxford University's vaccine is one of several in development around the world as scientists race to beat Covid-19.

Officially known as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 or AZD1222, it works by targeting a spiky structure on the surface of the coronavirus called the S protein, which it uses to attach to human cells and cause an infection.

A model of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Photo: Jens Schlueter/AFP

The genetic material of the new virus's S protein is placed in a weakened version of a common cold virus from chimpanzees that has been modified to prevent it being able to replicate in humans, so that after injection copies of only the S protein (not the virus) are produced.

The idea is that the body will detect the S protein and develop an immune response, teaching the immune system to attack S proteins in future. If the new virus enters a vaccinated person's body, scientists hope the immune system would target its surface spikes, thereby helping to prevent it binding to cells and reproducing.

The vaccine has been tested on animals and a small number of humans so far, with results that were promising enough for the UK to approve a trial on as many as 10,000 volunteers. That study is currently underway, with results expected to take between two and six months, and trials are due to start in other countries around the world.

“A significant proportion of vaccines that are tested in clinical trials don't work,” warns the Oxford Vaccine Centre, which developed the vaccine with Oxford University’s Jenner Institute.

“If we are unable to show that the vaccine is protective against the virus, we would review progress, examine alternative approaches, such as using different numbers of doses, and would potentially stop the programme.”

Several other potential vaccines are being tested around the world. Photo: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP

When might the vaccine be available in Italy?

If trials show the vaccine works, regulators will still have to approve it before it can be offered to the public.

The European Medicines Agency, which reviews drugs for use within the European Union, says it will fast-track the process to green-light a successful vaccine as soon as possible. In an “optimistic” scenario, that could be at the beginning of 2021, head of vaccines Marco Cavaleri said in May.

Yet Italy's health minister has promised that the first doses will be distributed sooner. The agreement with AstraZeneca includes a batch of 60 million doses that are expected to be delivered by the end of this year, Roberto Speranza told the Corriere della Sera after the deal was signed on June 13th.


While that timeline has not been confirmed by the developers of the vaccine, Italy hopes to benefit from the fact that Italian companies are involved in manufacturing the shot. 

Advent, a specialised manufacturer based in Pomezia near Rome, has already produced some 13,000 doses of the vaccine for use in clinical trials. And according to Speranza, another company in Anagni – also in Rome's Lazio region – will be responsible for putting the vaccine in vials.

Meanwhile as a founding member of the Inclusive Vaccine Alliance – the four-country partnership that signed the deal with AstraZeneca last weekend – Italy will be guaranteed access to any vaccine the allies choose to invest in.

Italy formed the alliance with France, Germany and the Netherlands earlier this month in order to negotiate jointly with drug developers and push to have a potential vaccine manufactured within Europe, with the goal of making it “accessible, available and affordable” everywhere in the EU.

Who would get vaccinated first?

Once a vaccine becomes available in Italy priority will be given to high-risk groups, according to Walter Ricciardi, a top scientific adviser to Italy's minister of health.

The first people to be offered the shot will include health workers, elderly people and people with conditions that make them particularly vulnerable, followed by the military and the police, Ricciardi told Repubblica.

Vaccination will gradually be extended to the rest of Italy, he said, with health services, GPs and vaccination centres mobilised to “cover the population as quickly as possible”.

How much will it cost?

Getting vaccinated against Covid-19 will be free in Italy, according to health minister Speranza, who confirmed to Corriere della Sera that the government would pay for the vaccine.

“The vaccine is the only definitive solution to Covid-19. As far as I'm concerned it will always be a global public asset, a right for everyone, not the privilege of a few,” he said in a statement.

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Italian monkeypox cases rise to seven

Five infections have now been confirmed in Rome, as well as one in Tuscany and one in Lombardy, Italian health authorities said.

Italian monkeypox cases rise to seven

The total number Italian monkeypox cases rose to seven on Wednesday as a new case was reported by the Spallanzani hospital for infectious diseases in Rome.

Spallanzani is treating six cases: five found in Lazio and one in Tuscany, while the Sacco Hospital in Milan is treating one patient from the Lombardy region.

“There is no alarm, but the infection surveillance system is at a state of maximum attention,” Lazio’s regional health councillor Alessio D’Amato told the Ansa news agency.

Researchers at Spallanzani said the new cases are thought to be “part of a pan-European cluster” linked to cases in the Canary Islands, Ansa reported.

The first Italian case of monkey smallpox, or monkeypox, was also found in a man who had recently returned from the Canary Islands, doctors said last Thursday.

More than 250 monkeypox cases have now been reported in at least 16 countries where the virus isn’t endemic, almost all in Europe, according to the World Health Organization.

They are mostly in Spain, the UK and Portugal, with single-digit cases in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland, as well as Italy.

READ ALSO: What is Spain doing to deal with rising monkeypox cases?

The illness has infected thousands of people in parts of Central and Western Africa in recent years, but is rare in Europe and North Africa.

Monkeypox is known to spread via close contact with an animal or human with the virus. It can be transmitted via bodily fluids, lesions, respiratory droplets or through contaminated materials, such as bedding.

Its symptoms are similar but somewhat milder than those of smallpox: fever, headache, muscle aches, back pain, chills, exhaustion, although it also causes the lymph nodes to swell up.

Within one to three days, the patient develops a rash, often beginning on the face then spreading to other parts of the body. 

Although most monkeypox cases aren’t serious, studies have shown that one in ten people who contract the disease in Africa die from it.

The unprecedented outbreak of the monkeypox virus has put the international community on alert.

On Monday, the European Union urged member states to take steps to ensure positive cases, close contacts, and even pets be quarantined as this is a zoonotic virus (a virus that spreads from animals to humans).