‘56 million by June’: Italy unveils new plan to accelerate Covid vaccines

Italy has been criticised over the speed of its vaccine rollout so far, but is that about to change under ambitious acceleration plans laid out by the new government?

‘56 million by June’: Italy unveils new plan to accelerate Covid vaccines
A man enters a Covid-19 vaccination centre in Rome on February 18th, 2021. Photo: Tiziana FABI/AFP

Italy’s prime minister Mario Draghi on Monday appointed army general Francesco Paolo Figliuolo as the country’s new Covid-19 emergency commissioner, replacing Domenico Arcuri. 

Draghi also appointed a new head of Italy’s Department for Civil Protection, Fabrizio Curcio.

The changes in leadership are part of the government’s plan to overhaul the national Covid-19 vaccination programme, with Draghi repeatedly saying that picking up speed is a priority since he took office in mid-February.

The vaccine rollout must involve the army, civil protection and volunteer services, Draghi said in an address to the Senate, adding that “we have a duty to make (vaccines) possible in every available public and private space”.

As of Tuesday March 2nd, Italy has administered 4.3 million shots in total since the vaccination programme began just over two months ago.

Only around 1.4 million people have had both doses, amounting to 2.3 percent of the population, according to the latest official data.

Palazzo Chigi, the prime minister’s office, released details of the acceleration plan on Monday, saying the aim is to have a total of 56 million doses administered by June.

As two shots are needed for each patient to reach immunity, this would cover under half of Italy’s population of 60.3 million.

READ ALSO: Where to register for a Covid-19 vaccine in your region of Italy

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.

The government said the aim is to have 200 thousand doses administered per day in March, for a total of 6.2 million doses this month, Italian media reports.

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

Italy’s vaccination campaign symbol at the Tor Vergata hospital in Rome. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The previous government in January announced plans to build 1,500 ‘pop-up’ vaccination kiosks in towns and cities across the country, though stressed that most of those would not be opened until vaccines are rolled out to the general public.

At the moment the jab is only available to priority groups, and those eligible need to register with their local health authority.

READ ALSO: Who is in Italy’s Covid-19 vaccine priority groups?

Italy began its programme by offering the vaccine to healthcare workers, over-80s and care home residents.

After the programme stalled in early February due to hold-ups in the supply chain, Italy expanded the program by offering jabs to millions more people, including essential workers, the clinically vulnerable and over-55s.

Most regions of Italy began expanding vaccinations to over-80s from February or March, while at the same time offering the first doses of the AstraZeneca jab to younger, healthier key workers. 

As of early February, three vaccines are available in Italy: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

Italy has recently updated its guidance on the AstraZeneca vaccine, confirming it is safe for those aged under 65.

The Health Ministry therefore now advises using the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines on people over 80 or with severe medical conditions, while offering AstraZeneca jabs sooner than expected to under-55s working in key sectors like schools or the police service.

The age group that has received the most doses so far is 50-59, followed by 40-49 and 80-89, health ministry data shows.

Vaccination programmes vary by regional health authority. You can find more information about signing up for the jab here.

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”