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HEALTH

‘Light at the end of the tunnel’: Italy approves plan to begin Covid vaccinations in January

Italy's health minister said the Covid-19 vaccine was a "light at the end of the tunnel" but urged continued vigilance, as tougher restrictions are expected to be introduced over Christmas.

'Light at the end of the tunnel': Italy approves plan to begin Covid vaccinations in January
A render showing the design of Italy's planned Covid vaccination kiosks. Image: Stefano Boeri Architetti

A proposal from Italy's coronavirus emergency commissioner Domenico Arcuri's to start a programme of mass vaccinations in early January was approved on Wednesday at a meeting between the central government and Italy's regional heads.

Authorities stressed that vaccines against the disease caused by the novel coronavirus would not be immediately distributed to the general population, but would be rolled out first to high-risk groups including medical staff and the elderly.
 
Italy will get its vaccines via an EU procurement programme and is waiting for the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to give the green light.
 
Health Minister Roberto Speranza on Wednesday welcomed news that the EMA was bringing forward to next Monday a meeting to discuss conditional approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine – which is already being distributed in the United States and Britain.
 
“It's good news that the process can be completed before Christmas,” Speranza said in a statement.

“We still need to be careful and cautious in the coming months until we have achieved sufficient vaccination coverage, but we're on the right path and we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
 
His words came as Italy's government considers introducing further restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of coronavirus over the Christmas holiday period.

 
Photo: AFP
 
Italy is among the European countries which have agreed to coordinate their Covid-19 vaccination campaigns, the countries’ health ministers said on Tuesday.
 
Italy, Germany, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland will promote “the coordination of the launch of the vaccination campaigns” and will share information on their progress, a joint statement read.

Who will be first to get the vaccine?

Once approval comes, doctors and health care workers will get the first doses – some 1.4 million people – the health ministry has said.

They will be followed by residents in care homes – just over 570,000 people.

Those aged over 80 will be next in line, followed by those aged 60-79, and those suffering from at least one chronic disease.

Vaccines will then be distributed to key workers – teachers, police, prison wardens 

After that, it will be offered to the general population at walk-in centres and specially-designed kiosks.

The vaccine will be free, and will not be obligatory.

While the government has not given official confirmation, it is unlikely that the vaccinations will be limited to Italian citizens.

All current mandatory or recommended vaccines are available to everyone living in the country – including those not registered with the SSN (National Health Service).

Pop-up vaccine kiosks

The Italian government this week announced that it will begin constructing pop-up vaccine kiosks in towns and cities throughout the country, starting in January. 

The distinctive white structures, designed by architect Stefano Boeri, will each be adorned with a flower graphic intended to symbolise “serenity and regeneration.”

There will be about 300 of the vaccine distribution sites at first, rising to 1,500 once the vaccination campaign is at its peak, Arcuri said.
 
“We may be able to build a few gazebos at the start of the campaign, but these structures are for when all Italians will start getting vaccinated,” he said.
 
Italy’s government was confident most of the population could be vaccinated by September, Reuters reports.
 
The government is expected to provide further details of the vaccine roll-out plan in the coming days.

Scientists estimate that 60-90 percent of a population needs to be vaccinated – possibly every year – to reach herd immunity against the coronavirus and stop future outbreaks.

Member comments

  1. Thank you for your coverage of the vaccination efforts in Italy. Is there any progress for the pop-up vaccination kiosks? It could be a model that other countries follow.

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ENVIRONMENT

REVEALED: These are the most polluted towns in Italy

The northern cities of Milan and Turin were named Italy's 'smog capitals' in a new pollution report on Monday which urged the government to take action over poor air quality.

REVEALED: These are the most polluted towns in Italy
Photo: Pixabay

Smog and pollution are choking Italian cities year-round and many towns are exceeding limits on fine particles and other pollution, according to another report from Italian environmental watchdog Legambiente.

The Mal’aria di città (Air pollution in the city) report for 2023, unveiled on Monday, was the latest to warn about the risks to health posed by pollution in many parts of the country.

It found that 25 of 95 cities monitored had violated clean air ordinances by exceeding daily fine particle (PM10) emission limits, which are currently set at no more than 35 days a year with a daily average of over 50 micrograms per cubic metre.

Turin was ranked as the worst offender, exceeding this level on 90 days, closely followed by Milan (84), Asti (79), Modena (75), and Padua and Venice at 70.

These were followed by Cremona, Treviso, Mantua and Rovigo, all of which exceeded limits to a lesser degree.

All of the most polluted cities were in the northern Italian regions of Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Veneto, with most within the north-western ‘industrial triangle’.

Some southern cities featured nearer the bottom of the ranking, with Andria (Puglia) and Ragusa (Sicily) exceeding limits on several days, as well as Rome, which overshot the permitted level for one day.

(Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

The average annual rate of PM10 emissions nationwide dropped slightly, by two percent year-on-year, the report found.

“This, however, is not enough to guarantee the health of citizens,” said Stefano Ciafani, president of Legambiente.

He pointed out that the situation looked even worse if air quality in Italian cities were measured against tighter limits under the new European Directive on air quality, in force from 2030, which lowers the PM10 threshold from 35 to 20 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

“Only 23 out of 96 cities (24 percent) would be under these limits,” Ciafani said, while 84 percent would exceed the threshold for PM2.5 and 61 percent for nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Italy has repeatedly been reprimanded by the European Union over air quality, and has “persistently and systematically” breached EU recommended limits, the European Court of Justice ruled in 2020.

The north of Italy has long been ranked among the worst areas in Europe for polluted air according to data from the European Environment Agency.

“Air pollution is not only an environmental problem, but also a health problem of great importance,” said Ciafani. “In Europe, it’s the main cause of premature death due to environmental factors.”

“Italy has more than 52,000 deaths per year caused by PM2.5 emissions, equal to a fifth of those recorded throughout the continent,” he said.

The main causes of air pollution in Italian cities are reported to be industry, inefficient domestic heating systems, agricultural practices and, most of all, heavy traffic.

In Italy, cars continue to be by far the most-used means of transport. 65.3 percent of journeys overall are made by car, Legambiante wrote, with the emissions from some 38 million cars choking Italy’s towns and cities.

(Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)

Legambiente said “drastic” measures were required to tackle the problem, including funds for more efficient heating systems in homes and public buildings and a major increase in public transport provision.

The group said Italy must “quadruple the availability of public transit, promoting integrated season tickets as done by Germany in 2022”, triple the number of electric buses, create zero-emission zones in town centres, and “create another 16,000 kilometres of cycle paths”.

It also praised local authorities choosing to bring in 30 km/h speed limits in city centres. Councils in Bologna, Turin, Milan and Cesena have all said they plan to implement these limits, following the lead of European cities including Paris and Madrid, despite fierce criticism from Italian transport minister Matteo Salvini.

Legambiente published a petition urging the government to make clean air and more livable cities a priority, saying Italy should follow Paris in attempting to create ’15-minute cities’, in which everyone lives within a quarter of an hour’s walk of vital amenities such as shops and schools and possibly also workplaces.