‘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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Former Italian PM faces investigation over Covid response

Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte is set to undergo a judicial inquiry over claims his government's response to the Covid-19 outbreak in early 2020 was too slow.

Former Italian PM faces investigation over Covid response

Prosecutors in Bergamo, the northern city that was one of the epicentres of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe, targeted Conte after wrapping up their three-year inquiry, according to media reports.

Conte, now president of the populist Five Star movement, was prime minister from 2018 to 2021 and oversaw the initial measures taken to halt the spread of what would become a global pandemic.

Investigating magistrates suspect that Conte and his government underestimated the contagiousness of Covid-19 even though available data showed that cases were spreading rapidly in Bergamo and the surrounding region.

They note that in early March 2020 the government did not create a “red zone” in two areas hit hardest by the outbreak, Nembro and Alzano Lombardo, even though security forces were ready to isolate the zone from the rest of the country.

READ ALSO: ‘Not offensive’: Italian minister defends Covid testing rule for China arrivals

Red zones had already been decreed in late February for around a dozen other nearby municipalities including Codogno, the town where the initial Covid case was reportedly found.

Conte’s health minister Roberto Speranza as well as the president of the Lombardy region, Attilio Fontana, are also under investigation, the reports said.

Bergamo prosecutors allege that according to scientific experts, earlier quarantines could have saved thousands of lives.

Conte, quoted by Il Corriere della Sera and other media outlets, said he was “unworried” by the inquiry, saying his government had acted “with the utmost commitment and responsibility during one of the most difficult moments of our republic.”

READ ALSO: Italy’s constitutional court upholds Covid vaccine mandate as fines kick in

Similar cases have been lodged against officials elsewhere, alleging that authorities failed to act quickly enough against a virus that has killed an estimated 6.8 million people worldwide since early 2020.

In January, France’s top court threw out a case against former health minister Agnes Buzyn, a trained doctor, over her allegedly “endangering the lives of others” by initially playing down the severity of Covid-19.