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HEALTH

Italy warns public to remain cautious despite ‘encouraging’ vaccine news

Italy’s health minister said the news on Monday that a potential coronavirus vaccine has proved 90% effective in trials was “encouraging” but urged people not to abandon safety measures.

Italy warns public to remain cautious despite 'encouraging' vaccine news
Several potential vaccines are currently in development around the world. File photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP
Development of a potential vaccination for coronavirus has taken a huge leap forward after Germany-based BioNTech and its American partner Pfizer on Monday published the results of their first large-scale trials, which are still ongoing.
 
 
Biontech announced that it wants to ask the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) for authorization to manufacture the vaccine together with Pfizer.
 
Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza welcomed the announcement, but stressed that the Italian public must continue to follow rules set to prevent contagion.
 
“Today's news about the Covid vaccine is encouraging,” Speranza tweeted. “But a great deal of prudence is still needed.”
 
“Scientific research is the true key to overcoming the emergency. In the meantime we must never forget that the behaviour of each one of us is indispensable in bringing down the (contagion) curve.”
 

 
On Monday, BioNTech and the American pharmaceutical group Pfizer revealed the first data results from their Phase 3 clinical study for the vaccine candidate BNT162b2.
 
Phase 3 of the trial involved 43,538 participants. These participants received two doses of either the immunisation or a placebo, with 90 percent protected from the virus within 28 days of having their injections.
 
 
So that means, according to the results, the risk of contracting Covid-19 was more than 90 percent lower for study participants who received the vaccine than those who didn't.
 
The firms say there have been no serious side-effects.
 
“Today is a great day for science and humanity,” said Dr Albert Bourla, the Pfizer chairman. “The first set of results from our Phase 3 Covid-19 vaccine trial provides the initial evidence of our vaccine’s ability to prevent Covid-19.”
 
“This is the first evidence that Covid-19 can be prevented by a vaccine in humans,” BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin told Reuters.
 
BioNTech and Pfizer started their final Phase 3 clinical trial at the end of July.
 
 
Meanwhile, Italian researchers are set to begin the third round of clinical trials of a vaccine in December.
 
Volunteers in Italy could receive the first doses in December, as scientists begin the next phase of trials of a potential vaccine developed by Oxford University and the AstraZeneca pharmaceutical group, and partly manufactured and bottled by two Italian companies near Rome.
 
 
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, one of several in development around the world, is among the most advanced, with a large-scale trial already underway on as many as 10,000 people in the UK.

Phase 3 trials are the final tests before regulators decide whether to approve a drug. The European Medicines Agency, which reviews drugs for use within the European Union, hopes to fast-track approval for Covid-19 vaccines, and the head of Italy's Higher Health Council, Franco Locatelli, has said the first doses could be available in spring 2021.

The new trial is separate from an early-stage trial underway in Rome, where researchers at the Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases are testing a different vaccine developed by Italian biotech company ReiThera on a much smaller sample of volunteers.

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HEALTH

Living in Italy: Five tips to help you survive the local pharmacy

From ear piercings to flu jabs, Italian ‘farmacie’ are among the most useful stores in the country, but they’re also very odd places. Here are our tips on getting through the pharmacy experience.

Living in Italy: Five tips to help you survive the local pharmacy

Italian pharmacies aren’t just stores selling prescription or over-the-counter medicines.

As a customer, you’ll find all sorts of natural remedies, basic health supplies and personal care items on their shelves. 

You’ll also be able to receive basic medical services (for instance, blood pressure checks, Covid tests and flu jabs) and some non-health-related ones (like getting your ears pierced!) in most branches. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I still get the flu vaccine in Italy? 

But, while being extremely useful stores, Italian farmacie (pronunciation available here) are also peculiar places and their set of unwritten rules and solidified traditions may well throw off newcomers.. 

So here are five tips that might help you complete your first expeditions to your local pharmacy without making a fool of yourself.

1 – Decipher your doctor’s scribbles before your trip

Much like some of their foreign colleagues, Italian GPs have a penchant for writing prescriptions that no one else is actually able to read. 

We might never find out why doctors seem so intent on making ancient hieroglyphs fashionable again, but their calligraphic efforts will surely get in the way of you trying to buy whatever medicine you need to survive. 

To avoid hiccups, make sure you know exactly what you need to get. If in doubt, reach out to your GP to confirm.

Don’t rely on pharmacists being able to figure out your doctor’s handwriting because they often have no clue either.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to make a doctor’s appointment in Italy 

Pharmacy in Codogno, near Milan

In most small towns and rural areas local pharmacies have very ‘thin’ opening hours. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

2 – Double-check the pharmacy’s opening times

If you’re from the UK or the US, you might be used to pharmacies being open from 8am to 10pm on weekdays and having slightly reduced opening times over the weekend. 

You can forget about that in Italy. In big cities, most pharmacies will shut no later than 8pm on weekdays and will be closed on either Saturdays or Sundays.

READ ALSO: Coughs, colds and flu: What to say and do if you fall sick in Italy 

As for small towns or villages, opening times will have a nice Middle Ages vibe to them, with local stores remaining shut on weekends and keeping their doors open from 9am to 12.30pm and then from 3.30pm to 7.30pm on weekdays. 

So always check your local pharmacy’s hours before leaving home and, should their times not be available online, call them up. An awkward phone conversation with the pharmacist is still preferable to a wasted trip.

3 – Get the ‘numerino

Some Italian pharmacies have a ticket-dispensing machine with the aim of regulating the queue – a concept which is still foreign to many across the country.

All customers are expected to get a numbered paper ticket (the famed ‘numerino’) from the above machine and wait for their number to be called to walk up to the pharmacist’s desk. 

Now, the law of the land categorically prohibits customers from getting within a five-metre radius of the desk without a numerino

Also, trying to break that rule may result in a number of disdainful sideways glances from local customers.

4 – You cannot escape the in-store conversations, so embrace them 

Pharmacies aren’t just stores. They’re a cornerstone of Italian life and locals do a good deal of socialising on the premises. 

After all, the waiting times are often a bit dispiriting, so how can you blame them for killing the time?

Small pharmacy in Italy

Pharmacies are an essential part of Italian life and culture. Photo by Marco SABADIN / AFP

You might think that locals won’t want to talk to you because you’re a foreigner or don’t know the language too well, but you’ll marvel at how chatty some are.

While chit-chat might not be your cup of tea, talking with locals might help you improve your Italian, so it’s worth a shot.

5 – “Vuoi scaricarlo?”

The pharmacist finally gets you what you need and you’re now thinking that your mission is over. Well, not yet.

Before charging you for the items in question, the pharmacist will ask you whether you’d like to ‘scaricarli’ (literally, ‘offload them’) or not, which, no matter how good your Italian is, will not make any sense to you.

What the pharmacist is actually asking you is whether you want to link the purchase to your codice fiscale (tax code). 

READ ALSO: Codice fiscale: How to get your Italian tax code (and why you need one)   

That’s because Italy offers residents a 19-percent discount on some health-related expenses, which can be claimed through one’s annual income declaration (dichiarazione dei redditi) by attaching the receipts of all the eligible payments.

Whether you want to scaricare or not, this is the last obstacle before you can make your way back home.

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