Human trials of Italian coronavirus vaccine begin in Rome

Today Italy's potential coronavirus vaccine begins its first human trial, after thousands of people applied to test the vaccine.

Human trials of Italian coronavirus vaccine begin in Rome
The entrance of the Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases in Rome. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

The trials will take place at the Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases in Rome.

Today at La Spallanzani the human trials of the Covid vaccine begin, funded by Region Lazio and The Ministry of Research. A beautiful achievement for Italian science and medicine. For us, the vaccine should be a common good.

“Today the first Italian, the first volunteer is undergoing vaccine testing. I am very satisfied and proud of this,” Francesco Vaia, the hospital's health director, told Rai News. “If all goes well and we finish this trial within the year, we could have the vaccine by next spring on a commercial basis. That's the prediction.”

Vaia said the key things to be determined during the human trials were whether the vaccine gives any side effects and whether it leads to production of antibodies in the test subjects.

The first volunteer, a 50-year-old man from Rome, said he was looking forward to the trial. He will be observed and after a few days, the vaccine will gradually be administered to more volunteers, up to 45 healthy people aged 18 to 55 in the first phase.

The made-in-Italy vaccine is one of several worldwide that are being developed in an effort to protect the world's population against the coronavirus. There are currently no approved vaccines that prevent infection by the virus, but several candidates are in different stages of development.

Italy has also signed an agreement with pharmaceutical group AstraZeneca to guarantee the supply of 300 million doses of a different experimental vaccine that the company is developing with Oxford University in the UK.

That vaccine is further along in development than Italy's, having been tested on animals and a small number of humans so far, and results from a much larger human trial are expected in several months. 

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Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”