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Italy considers giving single dose of vaccine to people who have had Covid-19

People who have already been infected may need just one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine to boost their immunity, the Italian health ministry says.

Italy considers giving single dose of vaccine to people who have had Covid-19
Empty doses of a Covid-19 vaccine at a hospital in Turin. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

As Italy seeks to speed up its vaccination campaign, health authorities are considering giving people who have recently recovered from Covid-19 a single shot of one of the three vaccines currently in use, which usually require a double dose. 

The health ministry’s director of prevention, Giovanni Rezza, signed off on the idea in a new circular issued on Wednesday, while cautioning that it could be withdrawn if any of the new variants emerging are found to present a high risk of reinfection.

READ ALSO: How and when can you get a Covid-19 vaccine in Italy?

A single dose is being considered for people who tested positive for the new coronavirus at least three months earlier, but preferably no more than six months ago, the circular states. 

It would not apply to people with weakened immune systems, who would continue to receive both doses.

The proposal does not mean that people who have had Covid-19 would skip to the front of the queue or be specially summoned to get vaccinated. 

Instead, as and when they become eligible according to Italy’s vaccine priority list, they should inform the local health authorities and ideally provide evidence of when they were infected, for example a positive PCR test result. Health services already ask people if they have had Covid-19 on the consent forms they fill out before getting their shot.

The health ministry does not advise carrying out blood tests to check for antibodies, which medical experts do not consider a foolproof way of identifying who has previously been infected.

READ ALSO: 

Early studies have indicated that people who have already fought off Covid-19 can have a strong immune response after only the first dose of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, with the shot acting as a kind of booster to the antibodies they have already developed. In some cases, researchers say, these people show higher immunity after just one dose than people who have never been infected achieve after two.

But some experts caution that more research is needed to investigate how long the antibodies last and whether they are effective against new variants of the virus.

With more than 2.4 million people in Italy known to have recovered from Covid-19, giving only one shot could save much needed supplies as Italy struggles to keep up with its vaccination timetable. 

The new government has said it will make speeding up the campaign a top priority, announcing a target this week to increase the number of vaccination centres and deliver a total of 56 million doses by June. 

Around 4.8 million have been administered to date, just over two months into the programme.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires just one dose for full protection, has not yet been approved for use in the European Union.

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POLITICS

Italy’s deputy health minister under fire for questioning Covid vaccines

Opposition leaders called for health undersecretary Marcello Gemmato to resign on Tuesday after the official said he was not "for or against" vaccines.

Italy's deputy health minister under fire for questioning Covid vaccines

Gemmato, a trained pharmacist and member of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party, made the remark during an appearance on the political talkshow ReStart on Rai 2 on Monday evening.

READ ALSO: Covid vaccines halved Italy’s death toll, study finds

In a widely-shared clip, the official criticises the previous government’s approach to the Covid pandemic, claiming that for a large part of the crisis Italy had the highest death rate and third highest ‘lethality’ rate (the proportion of Covid patients who died of the disease).

When journalist Aldo Cazzullo interjects to ask whether the toll would have been higher without vaccines, Gemmato responds: “that’s what you say,” and claimed: “We do not have the reverse burden of proof.”

The undersecretary goes on to say that he won’t “fall into the trap of taking a side for or against vaccines”.

After Gemmato’s comments, the president of Italy’s National Federation of Medical Guilds, Filippo Anelli, stressed that official figures showed the Italian vaccination campaign had already prevented some 150,000 deaths, slashing the country’s potential death toll by almost half.

Vaccines also prevented eight million cases of Covid-19, over 500,000 hospitalisations, and more than 55,000 admissions to intensive care, according to a report from Italy’s national health institute (ISS) in April 2021.

Gemmato’s comments provoked calls for him to step down, including from the head of the centre-left Democratic Party, Enrico Letta.

“A health undersecretary who doesn’t take his distance from no-vaxxers is certainly in the wrong job” wrote the leader of the centrist party Action, Carlo Calenda, on Twitter.

Infectious disease expert Matteo Bassetti of Genoa’s San Martino clinic also expressed shock.

“How is it possible to say that there is no scientific proof that vaccines have helped save the lives of millions of people? You just have to read the scientific literature,” Bassetti tweeted. 

In response to the backlash, Gemmato on Tuesday put out a statement saying he believes “vaccines are precious weapons against Covid” and claiming that his words were taken out of context and misused against him.

The Brothers of Italy party was harshly critical of the previous government’s approach to handling the Covid crisis, accusing the former government of using the pandemic as an excuse to “limit freedom” through its use of the ‘green pass’, a proof of vaccination required to access public spaces. 

But since coming into power, Meloni appears to have significantly softened her stance.

Her appointee for health minister, Orazio Schillaci, is a medical doctor who formed part of the team advising the Draghi administration on its handling of the pandemic.

Schillaci, a former dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery at Rome’s Tor Vergata University, has described the former government’s green pass scheme as an “indispensable tool for guaranteeing safety in university classrooms”.

Speaking at a session of the G20 on Tuesday, Meloni referenced the role of vaccines in bringing an end to the Covid pandemic.

“Thanks to the extraordinary work of health personnel, vaccines, prevention, and the accountability of citizens, life has gradually returned to normal,’ the prime minister said in a speech.

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