Covid-19: Italian regions pause new vaccinations after Pfizer supply delay

Italy is pushing ahead with second vaccinations, but most regions are pausing first doses following news that deliveries of Pfizer’s vaccines will be delayed.

Covid-19: Italian regions pause new vaccinations after Pfizer supply delay
Nurses prepare to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to healthcare workers in Rome. Photo: AFP

Italy is pushing ahead with second vaccinations, though many regions will suspend first doses following news that deliveries of Pfizer’s vaccines will be delayed.

Italy has  begun administering second doses of the Pfizer vaccine to health workers and elderly care home residents who received the first dose three weeks ago on ‘V-Day’, December 27th, the start of the European vaccine roll-out.

READ ALSO: Italy has vaccinated more than one million people against Covid-19

However, just as Italy began distributing the second doses, the vaccination campaign in Italy and elsewhere in Europe was hit by a temporary reduction in supplies of the vaccine by Pfizer.

Pfizer announced on Friday that it would supply fewer doses of the vaccine than originally expected this week due to work to upgrade its factory in Puurs, Belgium.

The company has since confirmed it will resume expected delivery volume from January 25th.

Due to the delay, Italy is set to get around 165,000 fewer doses than expected.

Which regions are affected?

As a result of the delay, all Italian regions have had their vaccination allocations cut except for the following six: Abruzzo, Basilicata, Marche, Molise, Umbria and Valle d'Aosta, according to Rai.

Many regions including Tuscany and Veneto have announced that they’ll only be administering the booster doses, while pausing new vaccinations.

Regional health authorities had reportedly been told to set aside 30 percent of the doses to ensure second doses could be administered smoothly, but not all have done so. 

Campania for example has already administered 97 percent of available doses, and other regions such as Veneto, Emilia Romagna, Umbria and Tuscany have given over 80 percent.

Photo: AFP

The European Commission has purchased some two billion vaccine doses from multiple companies for use in the 27 member states. 

The contract with Pfizer/BioNTech is for 600 million doses, half of which were set to be delivered before September.

While EU member states started vaccinating people on December 27th in a coordinated roll-out, each country is responsible for its own vaccination strategy.

In Italy, the vaccination programme also varies by region.

Italy has so far administered 1.1 million of its 1.4 million doses –  the most in Europe in numerical terms. 

COMPARE: How fast are European countries vaccinating against Covid-19?

As of January 18th, a total of 1,153,501 vaccinations have been administered in Italy – or nearly 82 percent of the doses delivered so far.
Italy's latest vaccination data, both regional and national, is being regularly updated on this website.

The vaccine is not yet available to the general population in Italy.

Some regions including Lazio have said they aim to begin vaccinating over-80s in February.

Doctors and other health care workers are first in line (some 1.4 million people) along with residents in care homes – just over 570,000 people. the health ministry has said.

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.

While the government plans to have up to 1,500 vaccination kiosks built in time for the roll-out of the vaccine to the general population, data shows there are currently 293 distribution points across Italy.

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

Italy's government said it was confident most of the population could be vaccinated by September, Reuters reports.

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.

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”