Italy has begun its flu vaccination campaign early this year, as part of efforts to lower the strain on health services during the cornavirus emergency.
Every year, flu outbreaks affect between four and 15 percent of the population in Italy, placing a heavy burden on the healthcare system.
Health authorities are advising people to get vaccinated early this year before the flu begins to circulate.
As getting a vaccine is more important than ever in 2020, here's what you need to know.
Who needs to have a flu shot?
According to the Italian Ministry of Health, the at-risk categories eligible for a free flu shot are:
Over 65s (some regions extend the recommendation to over 60s)
Pregnant women (or those who are postpartum at the start of the epidemic season.)
People with long-term health conditions including asthma, diabetes,
Anyone aged between 6 months to 65 years of age suffering from chronic diseases affecting the respiratory, cardio-circulatory, intestinal or neuromuscular systems, diabetes and severe obesity, chronic renal or adrenal insufficiency, hematopoietic organ diseases, tumors, immunosuppression drug induced or diseases such as HIV, hepatitis.
Residents of long-term care facilities.
Relatives and contacts (adults and children) of those at high risk of complications (regardless of whether the person at risk has been vaccinated or not).
Doctors and health personnel.
Police and firefighers
Anyone who does not fall into the above categories can buy a vaccine at a pharmacy, costing about €25, and have it inoculated by their doctor.
According to the Ministry of Health, “the flu vaccine is advised for all those who wish to avoid the flu and who do not have specific contraindications, after consulting their doctor.”
What about children?
While free vaccines are available for children in the US, UK, Canada, and several European countries, this is not the case nationwide in Italy.
At the moment, only a few regions in Italy offer free vaccination to children and adolescents who do not have long-term health conditions. Check with your doctor or local ASL (Azienda Sanitaria Locale, or local health office) on the rules where you are.
Where and when can I get a vaccine?
If you are registered with your local ASL (health authority), contact their Prevention Department or your GP or pediatrician for more information.
Many foreign nationals living in Italy are not eligible for Italian state healthcare for a variety of reasons and need private cover.
If this is your situation, speak to a private doctor, who may be able to give you a prescription. Alternatively you may buy the vaccine at a pharmacy, depending on availability.
The flu vaccine campaign begins on different dates in different regions. In many areas it has already started. This is the date on which the region will release all available doses of the vaccine to healthcare providers, with a certain percentage reserved for sale at pharmacies.
Here's when the campaign starts in each region:
Abruzzo – 1 October
Basilicata – October 15th
Calabria – October 1st
Campania – October 1st
Emilia-Romagna – 12 October
Friuli Venezia Giulia -1 October
Lazio – 1 October
Liguria – 5 October
Lombardy – 19 October
Marche – October 15
Molise – October 15th
Piedmont – October 26th
Puglia – 1 October for those at risk, 1 November for the rest of the population
Sardinia – October 1st
Sicily – 5 October
Tuscany – 5 October
Trentino Alto Adige – 12 October
Umbria – 1st October
Valle D'Aosta – 12 October
Veneto – 12 October
Some regions are organising vaccination days at schools, while others including Lazio are allowing more pharmacies to give the vaccines.
However, in many areas the vaccine may not be available to some patients until several weeks after the start date, as many local health authorities say they are prioritising vaccines for at-risk patients during the first two to four weeks of the campaign.
In some areas, this is simply due to supply problems. As one pharmacist in Rome told
the Repubblica newspeper: “Even if you want to buy the vaccine at the pharmacy, you will not find it. All the supply has been used for the at risk categories”.
Health authorities have urged people not to rush to get vaccinated, stressing that the vaccine will also be availble later in the year, with campaigns in most regions running until the end of January 2021.
Flu season in Italy is currently expected to peak in December.
For more information, see the Ministry of Health's flu information website or contact your local ASL.