Wealthier Italian regions announce plans to buy more vaccine doses

Five northern Italian regions have announced that they intend to purchase millions of additional doses of Covid-19 vaccines on top of those provided under the national and European vaccination programme.

Wealthier Italian regions announce plans to buy more vaccine doses
Photo: AFP

In recent days, the administrations of Veneto, Piedmont, Lombardy, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Emilia Romagna – among the wealthiest of Italy's 20 regions – have announced plans to purchase more vaccines

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

Luca Zaia, president of the Veneto region, said on Monday he was waiting for Italy's central government to authorise a bid for his region to buy up to 27 million vaccine doses from unnamed producers, according to Italian media reports.

“I have two offers for the purchase of vaccines, one for 15 million and one for 12 million doses,” he said. “These are vials authorized by the EMA (European Medicines Agency), proposed by verified intermediaries, with prices in line with those agreed by the EU with Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna.”
Veneto's healthcare chief, Luciano Flor, said: “the draft contracts are ready and can be closed in three to four days. The suppliers assure us that the doses would arrive in less than a month.”
While Italy has a national vaccination plan in place, timing and schedules vary by regional authority. This is due the country's highly decentralised system, which means each region manages its own healthcare system.
Under the regional system however, Italy has long had a problem with inequality between richer and poorer regions when it comes to healthcare provision and funding.
In Calabria, the country's poorest region, serious problems with funding and managing the coronavirus emergency response mean a war relief charity has been drafted in.
The symbol of Italy's vaccine programme on the floor of a health centre in Lombardy. Photo: AFP
Zaia insisted the Veneto region's bid to purchase more vaccines was “not a separatist move, but cooperative”.
He said Veneto has submitted its bids to coronavirus emergency commissioner, Domenico Arcuri, for approval.
The announcement from northern regions came as the government, led by former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, took office over the weekend.
Draghi is expected to outline the new government's plans for managing the coronavirus crisis when he speaks in the Senate this week.
He has already indicated that controlling the spread of new virus variants is a priority for the new government, along with speeding up the mass vaccination campaign.

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Q&A: What you need to know about Italy’s West Nile virus outbreak

As Italy records a surge in cases of West Nile fever, we look at what the disease is and where in the country it's spreading.

Q&A: What you need to know about Italy's West Nile virus outbreak

Mosquitos are unfortunately one downside of summer in Italy. But as well as being a nuisance, they may also pose a health risk in the country – one of the few in Europe to record cases of West Nile virus (WNV)

READ ALSO: Cases of West Nile fever surge in northern Italy

Last week Italy recorded 50 more cases of the mosquito-borne virus, bringing the total number of infections to 144 according to the latest report from Italy’s Higher Health Institute (ISS).

This marked a 53-percent increase in cases against the previous week, while ten people have died so far.

As the number of infections continues to rise, here are the answers to the most pressing questions about the disease and the outbreak in Italy.

What is it?

The West Nile Virus (WNV) is a single-stranded RNA virus that can cause West Nile fever in humans.

It’s a member of the Flavivirus family together with other endemic viruses such as the Zika and Dengue viruses.

The virus was first identified in 1937 in Uganda’s West Nile district but has since spread to many other parts of the world, to the point that it is now considered indigenous to Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australia. 

Carried by birds, West Nile virus is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes.

The West Nile virus is primarily transmitted by mosquitoes of the Culex species, which infect humans and other mammals through their bite, according to Italy’s health ministry.

There is no evidence that human-to-human transmission is possible.

Where are cases being reported in Italy?

Infections have been largely concentrated in the north of the country, especially in the Veneto region, where six people have now died of the disease. Other deaths were recorded in Lombardy, Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna.

The city of Padua, which is located in Veneto’s mainland, around 35 kilometres away from the Adriatic coast, is currently regarded as the hotspot of the virus. 

It isn’t yet clear why Veneto has been the worst-hit region so far, but experts fear that its marshy lowlands might be the perfect breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes. 

A mosquito of the Culex species viewed under a microscope.

Mosquitoes of the Culex species, a specimen of which is pictured above, are responsible for transmitting the West Nile Virus to humans and other mammals. Photo by Jon CHERRY Getty Images / AFP

How severe is the outbreak in Italy?

West Nile virus is not new to Italy. However, this summer has brought the highest number of cases recorded yet.

National infection levels remain relatively low but the country has by far the largest number of cases in Europe.

According to the most recent report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), dated August 3rd, 94 out of 120 recorded cases were in Italy.

Greece had 23 reported cases. Romania and Slovakia had two and one respectively. 

Italy is the only European country that has reported fatalities.

What are the symptoms?

According to the Italian Higher Health Institute (ISS), around 80 percent of infected people show no symptoms whatsoever.

In symptomatic cases, however, symptoms generally resemble those of a common flu and include fever, headaches, nausea and diarrhoea. 

The infection is usually only dangerous for people with weakened immune systems such as the elderly, and the most severe symptoms occur in fewer than one percent of infected people.

In healthy people, the virus is unlikely to cause more than a headache or sore throat, and symptoms generally last only a few days.

According to the data currently available, around one in 150 infected people can show symptoms as serious as partial vision loss, convulsions and paralysis. 

In very rare cases (around 0.1 percent, or one in 1000) the disease can cause brain infections (encephalitis or meningitis) which may eventually be fatal.

Brazilian biologists handle mosquito larvae.

There is currently no vaccine against West Nile disease, though several are being tested. Photo by Apu GOMES / AFP

Is there a cure?

There is no vaccine against West Nile fever. “Currently vaccines are being studied, but for the moment prevention consists mainly in reducing exposure to mosquito bites,” the ISS states.

There is also no specific treatment for the disease caused by the virus.

Patients showing the more serious symptoms are usually admitted to hospital and treated with IV fluids and assisted ventilation.

What should you do to protect yourself?

Seeing as there is currently no vaccine against the virus, the best way to protect oneself is by reducing exposure to mosquitoes as much as possible.

Italian health authorities have listed a number of official recommendations to help residents avoid mosquito bites. These include: 

  • Use repellent
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long trousers when being outdoors and especially during ​​mosquitoes’ peak activity times, i.e. sunrise and sunset
  • Use mosquito nets on your windows or sleep in rooms with air-conditioning and keep the windows closed
  • Make sure there are no pools of stagnant water around your house

See more information about West Nile virus in Italy on the health ministry’s website.