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VACCINE

Italian Prime Minister says delays in vaccine supplies ‘unacceptable’

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has criticised the suppliers of Covid-19 vaccines, saying delays in deliveries are “unacceptable” and in serious breach of contractual obligations.

Italian Prime Minister says delays in vaccine supplies 'unacceptable'
Photo: Yara NARDI / POOL / AFP

Conte also said that the government was considering legal action against AstraZeneca.

Italy might be forced to rethink its whole vaccination programme if supply problems persist, a senior health official told Reuters on Saturday January 23rd, after Rome had to cut its daily number of COVID-19 vaccinations by more than two thirds.

Pfizer Inc last week said it was temporarily slowing supplies to Europe to make manufacturing changes that would ultimately speed up output.

READ ALSO: Italy considers revising vaccine rollout due to supply drop

On Friday January 22nd, a senior official told Reuters that AstraZeneca Plc had also informed the EU that it would cut deliveries of its vaccine by 60 percent because of issues with production.

“This is unacceptable,” Conte said in a Facebook post. “Our vaccination plan … has been drawn up on the basis of contractual pledges freely undertaken by pharmaceutical companies with the European Commission.”

Italy says that Pfizer deliveries were down by 29 percent than originally planned and would also be down by 20 percent next week.

The head of Italy’s higher health council, Franco Locatelli, told a press conference they were expected to return to the agreed levels from February 1st.

Due to the delays, vaccinations in Italy are now only range from 20,000-25,000, down from more than 90,000 around two weeks ago, Locatelli said.

Rome has threatened to sue Pfizer and Prime Minister Conte said expected delays in the vaccine by AstraZeneca were disturbing. He said that Italy would receive 3.4 million doses of the vaccine instead of eight million in the first quarter.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: Italy threatens legal action over Pfizer vaccine delay

He added the heads of AstraZeneca Italy had confirmed the reduction in production capacity at a meeting on Saturday January 23rd with Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza and Covid-19 Special Commissioner Domenico Arcuri.

“Such delays in deliveries represent serious contractual violations, which cause enormous damage to Italy and other countries,” Conte said. “We’ll use all available legal tools as we’re already doing with Pfizer-BioNTech,” he added.

The European Medicines Agency will rule on the AstraZeneca vaccine on January 29th and Locatelli said Rome would have to reassess immunisation plans after that.

So far 1.31 million doses of vaccine have been given in Italy, this places the country in second in the EU, after Germany.

 

COVID-19

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”

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