“Any vaccine doses remaining at the end of the day, if they cannot be stored, may exceptionally be administered to whoever is available at the time in order to optimize use while avoiding waste,” states a new ordinance signed this week by Italy’s Covid-19 emergency commissioner, General Francesco Figliuolo.
Vaccination centres should continue to follow Italy’s priority list, the order says, meaning that older people and those with serious health problems would still be first in line.
But Figliuolo, a logistics specialist who took over the vaccination rollout earlier this month, has indicated that his main concern is ensuring that doses don’t go to waste as Italy struggles to speed up its campaign – an even bigger challenge now that the country’s drug regulator has halted use of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine pending more information about possible side effects.
“We have to use common sense: if there are priority groups who can use [the vaccine], good”, but otherwise “it goes to people next down the list or if not, whoever’s there should be vaccinated”, the commissioner said in a TV interview last weekend.
It’s not clear how the proposal will work in practice: until now, people have been urged not to go to a vaccination site unless they have booked an appointment, which is only possible if you’re in one of the top priority groups.
There were reports of confusion at some centres as people turned up in the hope of getting a leftover dose. At one site in Milan, Ansa news agency found several people not in any priority categories waiting outside, as well as others who were eligible for a jab but hadn’t yet been able to make an appointment.
Some health authorities have since clarified that leftover doses will be offered to people on a reserve list, such as key workers, not to anyone who volunteers.
“Many people are showing up at hospitals to volunteer for the vaccine, but we must be clear on this point,” said Lombardy’s regional head of welfare, Giovanni Pavesi. “We are relying on everyone’s cooperation and sense of civic duty to avoid pointless queues and crowding risks.”
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Italy’s new government has vowed to massively accelerate vaccinations, with the target of covering 80 percent of the population by September. Meeting that goal would involve nearly tripling the number of daily vaccine injections to 500,000 per day.
That has become an even harder task since injections of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine were halted earlier this week amid concerns over blood clots in a small number of people who had recently had the shot.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has said that use of the vaccine will resume immediately if the European Medicines Agency confirms it is safe to do so at an emergency meeting on Thursday, March 18th.
So far just over two million people in Italy have received the necessary two vaccine shots, out of a population of about 60 million.