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HEALTH

Italy’s vaccine supply short by nearly 30 percent, data shows

Italy's coronavirus vaccine plan is missing its targets as the country has received almost 30 percent fewer doses than expected, government data showed on Thursday.

Italy's vaccine supply short by nearly 30 percent, data shows
Empty doses of the Covid-19 vaccine at a hospital in Turin. Photo by Marco Bertorello / AFP

The government had said in a document published on March 13th that it counted on procuring 15.7 million vaccine doses by the end of the first quarter of 2021.

But only 11.25 million vaccine doses arrived, a gap of around 28 percent, a government website indicated.

READ ALSO: Europe’s slow vaccine rollout is ‘prolonging the pandemic’ as infections surge

Most of the shortfall was due to AstraZeneca, which supplied Italy with 2.75 million doses rather than the expected 5.35 million. Moderna supplies were also behind schedule.

The Italian government set a goal of administering at least 300,000 doses per day before the end of March, but this has proved equally unattainable.

On March 31st, around 251,000 people got a jab, but the seven-day average for daily inoculations is 233,749, according to business daily Il Sole 24 Ore.

Italy is one of the countries worst-hit by the coronavirus, with the official death toll approaching 110,000. Beating the pandemic, and reversing the recession it has triggered, is priority number one for Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who took office in February. 

But several regional politicians warned that they are close to halting inoculations due to severe supply shortages.

Alessio D’Amato, health commissioner for Lazio, the region including Rome, said he was missing 122,000 AstraZeneca doses. “If [they] do not arrive in the next 24 hours, we will unfortunately be forced to suspend vaccinations,” D’Amato said on Thursday.

READ ALSO:

Health Minister Roberto Speranza and the government’s coronavirus commissioner, General Francesco Paolo Figliuolo, insisted there was no such risk. Figliuolo said 500,000 Moderna doses were being distributed nationwide on Thursday, and 1.3 million AstraZeneca jabs were expected to arrive by Friday.

Deliveries of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires just one shot for full effectiveness, are due to begin in mid-April.

Italy has so far fully vaccinated just under 3.2 million people, little more than 5 percent of the total population of 60 million. Around 11 percent of the population has had at least one dose.

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ENVIRONMENT

REVEALED: These are the most polluted towns in Italy

The northern cities of Milan and Turin were named Italy's 'smog capitals' in a new pollution report on Monday which urged the government to take action over poor air quality.

REVEALED: These are the most polluted towns in Italy
Photo: Pixabay

Smog and pollution are choking Italian cities year-round and many towns are exceeding limits on fine particles and other pollution, according to another report from Italian environmental watchdog Legambiente.

The Mal’aria di città (Air pollution in the city) report for 2023, unveiled on Monday, was the latest to warn about the risks to health posed by pollution in many parts of the country.

It found that 25 of 95 cities monitored had violated clean air ordinances by exceeding daily fine particle (PM10) emission limits, which are currently set at no more than 35 days a year with a daily average of over 50 micrograms per cubic metre.

Turin was ranked as the worst offender, exceeding this level on 90 days, closely followed by Milan (84), Asti (79), Modena (75), and Padua and Venice at 70.

These were followed by Cremona, Treviso, Mantua and Rovigo, all of which exceeded limits to a lesser degree.

All of the most polluted cities were in the northern Italian regions of Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Veneto, with most within the north-western ‘industrial triangle’.

Some southern cities featured nearer the bottom of the ranking, with Andria (Puglia) and Ragusa (Sicily) exceeding limits on several days, as well as Rome, which overshot the permitted level for one day.

(Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

The average annual rate of PM10 emissions nationwide dropped slightly, by two percent year-on-year, the report found.

“This, however, is not enough to guarantee the health of citizens,” said Stefano Ciafani, president of Legambiente.

He pointed out that the situation looked even worse if air quality in Italian cities were measured against tighter limits under the new European Directive on air quality, in force from 2030, which lowers the PM10 threshold from 35 to 20 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

“Only 23 out of 96 cities (24 percent) would be under these limits,” Ciafani said, while 84 percent would exceed the threshold for PM2.5 and 61 percent for nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Italy has repeatedly been reprimanded by the European Union over air quality, and has “persistently and systematically” breached EU recommended limits, the European Court of Justice ruled in 2020.

The north of Italy has long been ranked among the worst areas in Europe for polluted air according to data from the European Environment Agency.

“Air pollution is not only an environmental problem, but also a health problem of great importance,” said Ciafani. “In Europe, it’s the main cause of premature death due to environmental factors.”

“Italy has more than 52,000 deaths per year caused by PM2.5 emissions, equal to a fifth of those recorded throughout the continent,” he said.

The main causes of air pollution in Italian cities are reported to be industry, inefficient domestic heating systems, agricultural practices and, most of all, heavy traffic.

In Italy, cars continue to be by far the most-used means of transport. 65.3 percent of journeys overall are made by car, Legambiante wrote, with the emissions from some 38 million cars choking Italy’s towns and cities.

(Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)

Legambiente said “drastic” measures were required to tackle the problem, including funds for more efficient heating systems in homes and public buildings and a major increase in public transport provision.

The group said Italy must “quadruple the availability of public transit, promoting integrated season tickets as done by Germany in 2022”, triple the number of electric buses, create zero-emission zones in town centres, and “create another 16,000 kilometres of cycle paths”.

It also praised local authorities choosing to bring in 30 km/h speed limits in city centres. Councils in Bologna, Turin, Milan and Cesena have all said they plan to implement these limits, following the lead of European cities including Paris and Madrid, despite fierce criticism from Italian transport minister Matteo Salvini.

Legambiente published a petition urging the government to make clean air and more livable cities a priority, saying Italy should follow Paris in attempting to create ’15-minute cities’, in which everyone lives within a quarter of an hour’s walk of vital amenities such as shops and schools and possibly also workplaces.