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HEALTHCARE

Italy says diplomats and Italians who live abroad can get vaccinated without a health card

As people outside the public health system struggle to access Covid-19 vaccines in Italy, the government has said that certain categories can book their jab despite not having all the paperwork – but only a specific few.

Italy says diplomats and Italians who live abroad can get vaccinated without a health card
A vaccination centre in Rome. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

In its first official guidance on how people who aren’t enrolled in the national health service should get vaccinated, Italy has issued an ordinance that makes exceptions for a few select groups.

Italian citizens who usually live abroad and are only in Italy temporarily will be allowed to book a shot even without the tessera sanitaria (healthcare card) that is usually required, according to the new ordinance, dated April 24th and signed by Covid-19 emergency commissioner Francesco Figliuolo.

READ ALSO: ‘We need ammunition’: Jabs for over-60s postponed as Italian regions run out of vaccines

Current and retired employees of European Union institutions or other international organizations living in Italy, as well as foreign diplomats, can also book without a health card. So can any of their dependent family members living here with them.

People in these categories will be able to register for vaccination using only their codice fiscale (tax code) or passport, cross-checked as applicable against their employer’s records or the AIRE (Registry of Italians Resident Abroad).

The usual priority order continues to apply, meaning that only people in high-risk age groups, clinically vulnerable people or people who work in schools or healthcare are currently eligible to get vaccinated.

These limited exceptions do not help others living in Italy without a tessera sanitaria, including foreign residents who have been unable to join the public health system because of bureaucratic delays or different regional rules.

READ ALSO: 

People wait at a vaccination hub set up outside Rome’s Termini railway station. (Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP)

While Italy has promised that everyone will be offered a vaccine regardless of nationality or immigration status, so far it has only allowed residents who are registered for public healthcare to book an appointment.

That has left residents who are outside the system, especially foreign retirees, unable to get vaccinated despite being in a high-priority category. People in this situation are still waiting to find out whether Italy will make arrangements for them to book, or whether they will have to wait months for jabs to become available on a walk-in basis.

OPINION: Bureaucratic barriers must not stop Italy vaccinating its foreign residents

The latest ordinance at least sets a precedent for booking vaccination without a health card, including allowing different government bodies to share records instead of using only tessera sanitaria databases.

To qualify for vaccination, the ordinance states, Italian nationals who don’t live in Italy must be registered on the AIRE. It is presumably aimed at Italians who have left homes overseas to wait out the pandemic in Italy.

The Local is continuing to follow this issue and will post any new updates on how to get vaccinated without a health card as they appear. Find more coverage of Italy’s vaccination campaign here.

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POLITICS

Italy’s deputy health minister under fire for questioning Covid vaccines

Opposition leaders called for health undersecretary Marcello Gemmato to resign on Tuesday after the official said he was not "for or against" vaccines.

Italy's deputy health minister under fire for questioning Covid vaccines

Gemmato, a trained pharmacist and member of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party, made the remark during an appearance on the political talkshow ReStart on Rai 2 on Monday evening.

READ ALSO: Covid vaccines halved Italy’s death toll, study finds

In a widely-shared clip, the official criticises the previous government’s approach to the Covid pandemic, claiming that for a large part of the crisis Italy had the highest death rate and third highest ‘lethality’ rate (the proportion of Covid patients who died of the disease).

When journalist Aldo Cazzullo interjects to ask whether the toll would have been higher without vaccines, Gemmato responds: “that’s what you say,” and claimed: “We do not have the reverse burden of proof.”

The undersecretary goes on to say that he won’t “fall into the trap of taking a side for or against vaccines”.

After Gemmato’s comments, the president of Italy’s National Federation of Medical Guilds, Filippo Anelli, stressed that official figures showed the Italian vaccination campaign had already prevented some 150,000 deaths, slashing the country’s potential death toll by almost half.

Vaccines also prevented eight million cases of Covid-19, over 500,000 hospitalisations, and more than 55,000 admissions to intensive care, according to a report from Italy’s national health institute (ISS) in April 2021.

Gemmato’s comments provoked calls for him to step down, including from the head of the centre-left Democratic Party, Enrico Letta.

“A health undersecretary who doesn’t take his distance from no-vaxxers is certainly in the wrong job” wrote the leader of the centrist party Action, Carlo Calenda, on Twitter.

Infectious disease expert Matteo Bassetti of Genoa’s San Martino clinic also expressed shock.

“How is it possible to say that there is no scientific proof that vaccines have helped save the lives of millions of people? You just have to read the scientific literature,” Bassetti tweeted. 

In response to the backlash, Gemmato on Tuesday put out a statement saying he believes “vaccines are precious weapons against Covid” and claiming that his words were taken out of context and misused against him.

The Brothers of Italy party was harshly critical of the previous government’s approach to handling the Covid crisis, accusing the former government of using the pandemic as an excuse to “limit freedom” through its use of the ‘green pass’, a proof of vaccination required to access public spaces. 

But since coming into power, Meloni appears to have significantly softened her stance.

Her appointee for health minister, Orazio Schillaci, is a medical doctor who formed part of the team advising the Draghi administration on its handling of the pandemic.

Schillaci, a former dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery at Rome’s Tor Vergata University, has described the former government’s green pass scheme as an “indispensable tool for guaranteeing safety in university classrooms”.

Speaking at a session of the G20 on Tuesday, Meloni referenced the role of vaccines in bringing an end to the Covid pandemic.

“Thanks to the extraordinary work of health personnel, vaccines, prevention, and the accountability of citizens, life has gradually returned to normal,’ the prime minister said in a speech.

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