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HEALTH

Italy to start vaccinating over-55s and key workers this month under updated vaccine plan

Italy will start offering Covid-19 jabs to teachers, police officers, prison staff and everyone over 55 as a third vaccine arrives in Italy this month.

Italy to start vaccinating over-55s and key workers this month under updated vaccine plan
Italy plans to vaccinate another 2 million people in February. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are due to arrive on February 8th and will be offered to essential workers outside the health sector, Italy's vaccine task force decided in a meeting on Wednesday evening to revise the immunization schedule.

Meanwhile new doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which have been administered to some 2 million people in Italy to date, will be allocated to over-55s and people with pre-existing health problems.

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

That significantly accelerates Italy's vaccination timetable: previously, no one under 80 was supposed to get the shot until all over-80s – some 4.4 million people – had been vaccinated, along with the roughly 2 million health workers and nursing home staff and residents who were first in line.

Under the revised vaccination plan, Italy's new targets are to administer some 2 million doses in February – the same number delivered in the first five weeks of the programme so far – rising to 4 million in March and 8 million in April.

The first phase of the campaign has concentrated primarily on healthcare professionals, with regional health services scheduled to begin immunizing over-80s from the second week of February onwards.

Under the new plan Italy will start vaccinating over-80s, over-55s and key workers all at the same time, meaning that some 24 million people in Italy will become eligible to join the queue for a jab – though when they actually get one will depend on supplies. 

The change is due to regulatory caution over whether the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and effective for older adults. While the vaccine has been approved by EU and Italian regulators for use on all adults, clinical trials to date have mainly involved participants under 55, leading Italian medicines agency AIFA to recommend that it be reserved for 18 to 55-year-olds pending further studies.

When the first million doses arrive this month, they will therefore be offered to teachers, lecturers and other staff in schools and universities, as well as members of the armed forces, police, firefighters, prison staff and prisoners, other key workers and people living in religious or other shared communities who are under 55.

Those over 55 or with health conditions including arterial hypertension, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, severe obesity and others will receive either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna shot, around 2.5 million doses of which are due to arrive throughout February.

Pharmaceutical groups insist that they will get deliveries back on track after production delays in January, which the Italian health ministry said had pushed back its vaccination campaign by six to eight weeks. The programme stalled as health authorities focused on delivering booster shots to people who had already received their first dose.

While the government is keen to pick up the pace, the timeline varies by region, with Italy's different regional health services setting their own calendars depending on their population, resources and vaccination sites.

Among the first parts of the country due to start vaccinating over-80s in the coming days are Lazio, Valle D'Aosta and the autonomous province of Trentino, while Liguria, Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Piedmont and Lombardy have said they will begin from mid to late February or March.

 

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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.