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HEALTH

Covid-19: Italy announces ‘six to eight week’ vaccine delay after supply drop

The Italian government has revised its Covid-19 vaccination plan due a reduction in supplies from Pfizer, and is now focused on making sure people who have had their first dose get the second shot.

Covid-19: Italy announces 'six to eight week' vaccine delay after supply drop
A nurse in Rome prepares to administer the Covid-19 vaccine. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

“From Monday, the available doses will be primarily used to make sure people who have had the first get the second one in time,” said Deputy Health Minister Pierpaolo Sileri, speaking on the Rai1 television channel on Sunday.

The deputy minister said that due to supply drops announnced by Pfizer and AstraZeneca means over-80s will be vaccinated four weeks later than previously planned.

CHARTS: How many people has Italy vaccinated so far?

He said there will be a delay of “six to eight weeks” for the rest of the population.

The vaccine is not currently available to the general population in Italy, as it has prioritised vaccinating healthcare workers and elderly care home residents.

Some Italian regions had aimed to begin rolling out the vaccine to over-80s in early February.

Sileri said almost 1.38 million vaccine doses had been administered in Italy – 74 percent of the total delivered so far – and 100,863 people have had their second doses.

Photo: AFP

Pfizer said last week that supplies of the vaccine would be temporarily delayed due to upgrades needed at its production facility in Belgium.

AstraZeneca, whose vaccine has not yet been approved in the EU, then also said on Friday that it would deliver 60 percent fewer doses of its vaccine to the EU than planned.

Rome has already had to cut the number of daily vaccinations by around two thirds, due to supply problems with the Pfizer vaccine, Franco Locatelli, the head of the government health council, said on Saturday.

Italy has been one of the leading countries in Europe in terms of the speed of its vaccine roll out.

But the number of vaccines distributed in recent days has fallen sharply due to Pzifer delivering some 30 percent fewer doses over the past week, Locatelli said.

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

READ MORE: Italy threatens to sue Pfizer over delivery drop

“Such delays in deliveries represent serious contractual violations, which cause enormous damage to Italy and other countries,” Conte said. 

He confirmed that his administration is now also considering legal action against AstraZeneca.

“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.

 

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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.