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 face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”