Italy expected to miss Covid vaccination target this month

Despite recent improvements, the Italian vaccination campaign is unlikely to meet its target of half a million shots daily by the end of April, the country’s civil defence chief said this week.

Italy expected to miss Covid vaccination target this month
People wait to be vaccinated against Covid-19 at the San Giovanni Addolorata hospital in Rome on April 22nd. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Italian authorities have been aiming to have half a million Covid-19 vaccine doses administered a day by the end of the month – a delay to the previous goal of reaching that number by mid-April.

“We will reach half a million daily shots in early May,” Fabrizio Curcio, the head of Italy’s Department for Civil Protection, said in an interview with Bloomberg on Wednesday 

“But what will matter will be keeping to it over time,” he added. “This is crucially linked to the availability of vaccines.”

Italy continues to administer vaccines at a slower pace than the European average, amid a series of supply delays and other setbacks.

Despite a 35.5% increase in injections in the last three weeks, the average number of jabs daily is 315,506 – missing the target by more than 180,000.

So far, the highest number of doses administered in one day in Italy was 347,279 on April 17th.

The delays have been partially caused by health concerns following the suspension of the use of the AstraZeneca jab, which Curcio said had “affected public trust”.

Around ten percent of all those booked for the AstraZeneca jab in Italy have cancelled appointments due to concerns, he said.

In early April, Italy began to recommend the vaccine for over-60s only after the EU’s medicines regulator said blood clots should be listed as a rare side effect of the jab, though stressed that the benefits continue to outweigh the risks.

IN CHARTS: Who is Italy vaccinating fastest?

As a result, the majority of vaccinations administered in Italy come from manufacturer Pfizer/BioNTech.

But the main problem for Italy, and many other European countries, has been the lower-than-expected number of vaccine doses delivered overall.

Italy’s vaccine campaign is expected to speed up sharply from May, Curcio said, as more doses arrive and family doctors, dentists and pharmacists are recruited to help administer vaccines. 

“We’re ready to increase the daily inoculation rate,” Curcio said. “When doses arrive we’ll put them to use.”

He estimated that a total of 15 million more vaccine doses would arrive in Italy throughout May.

A Civil Protection volunteer is pictured at a new vaccination hub in Turin. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

Italy on Thursday began distributing its first batch of 184,000 Johnson & Johnson single-dose shots, which had been blocked last week by a safety review by the European Medicines Agency. 

The agency found on Tuesday that the vaccine’s benefits outweigh its risks.

The Italian government is counting on the vaccination effort to help reduce pressure on hospitals and allow planned reopenings to go ahead in the coming weeks and months.

IN NUMBERS: Is it too soon for Italy to relax its coronavirus restrictions?

The country recently began focusing on vaccinating all over-75s, following accusations that prioritising other groups in the early stages of the campaign had put the lives of elderly and vulnerable people at risk.

The Covid vaccine is not yet available to the general public in Italy. Those in eligible groups can book an appointment with their local health authority (ASL).

Italy had administered more than 16.6 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine as of Friday morning, according to official figures

Almost five million people in the country are now fully vaccinated with both shots.

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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].”