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VACCINE

Italy says leftover vaccines should be given to ‘whoever is available’

Unused doses of Covid-19 vaccines at risk of expiring should go to people ready to get the shot there and then, the head of Italy's vaccination campaign has said.

Italy says leftover vaccines should be given to 'whoever is available'
A vaccination centre in Rome. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

“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.

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

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.

Italy’s Covid-19 commissioner General Francesco Figliuolo. (Photo: Guglielmo Mangiapane/Pool/AFP)

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.” 

READ ALSO: 

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.

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COVID-19

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”

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