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How and when can you get a Covid-19 vaccine in Italy?

With Italy's Covid-19 vaccination campaign well underway, nearly 1.5 million people have already had both their shots. Here's how and when you can expect to get yours.

How and when can you get a Covid-19 vaccine in Italy?
Preparing a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Rome. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Getting vaccinated isn’t compulsory in Italy, but it’s strongly recommended, free, and will ultimately be offered to every resident.

With a limited supply of vaccines, however, Italy has come up with a strict order of priority that means many of us will have to wait at least a few more months before we can get immunized.

Here’s who gets to go first, and how to get in line.

Who is Italy vaccinating first?

Italy began ‘phase one’ of its vaccination campaign at the end of December, when it first started administering the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to frontline health workers.

As set out in Italy’s national vaccination strategy, nursing home staff and residents were next in line. 

Despite a strong start, the roll-out stalled amid hold-ups in the supply chain. But by February, with hundreds of thousands of people in the two top priority groups fully vaccinated, Italy began extending the campaign to the general public. 

CHARTS: How many people has Italy vaccinated so far?

Its next priority group is people over 80, who are estimated to number around 4.4 million in Italy. 

But Italy revised its vaccination plan with the arrival of the first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which the Italian medicines agency recommends should only be used on adults aged 65 or under.

That proviso means that the AstraZeneca vaccine is earmarked for under-65s working in key sectors including schools, universities, prisons and the armed forces, while in parallel over-80s are getting either the Pfizer or Moderna version.

Because the campaign is delivered by separate regional health services, each region of Italy has its own vaccination timetable – but most have already started offering jabs to over-80s and key workers, or will do so shortly.

Who is next in line?

As EU regulators approve other vaccines and more doses arrive in Italy, vaccination will be extended to the groups next down the list:

  • People at very high risk of becoming severely ill with Covid-19, aged 16 up
  • People aged 75 to 79
  • People aged 70 to 74
  • People aged 16 to 69 with less severe health conditions
  • People aged 55 to 69
  • Everyone else aged 16 to 54

Find more information about Italy’s vaccine priority groups here.

When exactly these groups become eligible depends on how quickly new vaccines are approved, and how many doses arrive and when.

The national plan also says that doses can be reassigned if a new risk factor is identified or if there is a sudden outbreak in a particular area, for example.

What should I do if I’m eligible for a vaccine?

Vaccination at one of the roughly 1,500 specialised sites across Italy currently authorized to administer the shot is by appointment only. Do not go to a vaccination centre without registering first.

Most regional health services now allow eligible residents to book their jab online or by phone. You can also make an appointment on someone else’s behalf.

Depending on your region, you may be able to register via your usual doctor or in a pharmacy too.

Check your local health authority’s website or ask your GP about the procedure where you are. You’ll find links to all regional health services here

What if I’m not yet eligible?

It’s not yet clear when people further down the list can expect their shots. 

With around 4.6 million doses delivered in the first two months of the campaign, Italy’s new government has promised to speed up vaccinations, aiming to deliver 56 million doses by June (representing 28 million people fully immunized).

Currently around 108,000 doses are being administered daily.  At this rate, Italy would not meet its stated target of vaccinating most of the adult population until December 2021, instead of September as hoped.

READ ALSO: 

Under plans announced at the beginning of March, the new government says it wants to administer 200,000 doses per day this month, for a total of 6.2 million doses in March.

The number is set to rise to 400,000 per day in April (12 million per month), 500,000 in May (15.5 million) and 600,000 in June (18 million).

To facilitate this acceleration, the government reportedly plans to increase the number of vaccination sites in Italy to 2,000. These are expected to be operational by April.

Ultimately Italy plans to offer vaccination on a walk-in basis at pop-up centres around the country.

Can you get vaccinated privately in Italy?

No. The Health Ministry has stressed that Covid-19 vaccines should be free for all residents in Italy and does not allow any private facilities to offer them on a paid basis.

READ ALSO: Can foreigners in Italy get the Covid-19 vaccine?

Vaccination is expected to be offered without charge even to residents who are not registered with the Italian national health service (SSN), as is the case for other mandatory or recommended vaccines.

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POLITICS

Italy’s deputy health minister under fire for questioning Covid vaccines

Opposition leaders called for health undersecretary Marcello Gemmato to resign on Tuesday after the official said he was not "for or against" vaccines.

Italy's deputy health minister under fire for questioning Covid vaccines

Gemmato, a trained pharmacist and member of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party, made the remark during an appearance on the political talkshow ReStart on Rai 2 on Monday evening.

READ ALSO: Covid vaccines halved Italy’s death toll, study finds

In a widely-shared clip, the official criticises the previous government’s approach to the Covid pandemic, claiming that for a large part of the crisis Italy had the highest death rate and third highest ‘lethality’ rate (the proportion of Covid patients who died of the disease).

When journalist Aldo Cazzullo interjects to ask whether the toll would have been higher without vaccines, Gemmato responds: “that’s what you say,” and claimed: “We do not have the reverse burden of proof.”

The undersecretary goes on to say that he won’t “fall into the trap of taking a side for or against vaccines”.

After Gemmato’s comments, the president of Italy’s National Federation of Medical Guilds, Filippo Anelli, stressed that official figures showed the Italian vaccination campaign had already prevented some 150,000 deaths, slashing the country’s potential death toll by almost half.

Vaccines also prevented eight million cases of Covid-19, over 500,000 hospitalisations, and more than 55,000 admissions to intensive care, according to a report from Italy’s national health institute (ISS) in April 2021.

Gemmato’s comments provoked calls for him to step down, including from the head of the centre-left Democratic Party, Enrico Letta.

“A health undersecretary who doesn’t take his distance from no-vaxxers is certainly in the wrong job” wrote the leader of the centrist party Action, Carlo Calenda, on Twitter.

Infectious disease expert Matteo Bassetti of Genoa’s San Martino clinic also expressed shock.

“How is it possible to say that there is no scientific proof that vaccines have helped save the lives of millions of people? You just have to read the scientific literature,” Bassetti tweeted. 

In response to the backlash, Gemmato on Tuesday put out a statement saying he believes “vaccines are precious weapons against Covid” and claiming that his words were taken out of context and misused against him.

The Brothers of Italy party was harshly critical of the previous government’s approach to handling the Covid crisis, accusing the former government of using the pandemic as an excuse to “limit freedom” through its use of the ‘green pass’, a proof of vaccination required to access public spaces. 

But since coming into power, Meloni appears to have significantly softened her stance.

Her appointee for health minister, Orazio Schillaci, is a medical doctor who formed part of the team advising the Draghi administration on its handling of the pandemic.

Schillaci, a former dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery at Rome’s Tor Vergata University, has described the former government’s green pass scheme as an “indispensable tool for guaranteeing safety in university classrooms”.

Speaking at a session of the G20 on Tuesday, Meloni referenced the role of vaccines in bringing an end to the Covid pandemic.

“Thanks to the extraordinary work of health personnel, vaccines, prevention, and the accountability of citizens, life has gradually returned to normal,’ the prime minister said in a speech.

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