EXPLAINED: What to do if you’re told you can’t book a Covid vaccine appointment in Italy

EXPLAINED: What to do if you’re told you can’t book a Covid vaccine appointment in Italy
People wait to be vaccinated at a hub within the Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art near Turin. Photo: Marco BERTORELLO / AFP
Everyone in Italy has the right to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, but many of The Local's readers have reported facing bureaucratic obstacles when trying to book their appointment.

Question: I tried to book an appointment for the Covid-19 vaccine when my age group became eligible, but the online form requires a tessera sanitaria (health card) number. I don’t have one. What can I do?

Lacking a tessera sanitaria – the card which shows you’re registered with Italy’s national health service (Servizio Sanitari Nazionale, SSN) – should in theory not be a barrier to vaccination. 

The country has a principle of making essential healthcare available to everyone, regardless of nationality or immigration status. That includes vaccinations against potentially severe infectious diseases, such as Covid-19.

But in reality, things aren’t that simple – as the dozens of emails we have received from readers show.

While Italy’s foreign residents may not have an Italian health card for a number of valid reasons, the document has been made a requirement on most online appointment booking systems. And some Italian citizens are also having trouble making appointments because of this.

READ ALSO: ‘It felt like a betrayal’: Foreign residents in Italy report problems getting vaccinated

We’ve been getting questions about this at The Local since Italy began its vaccination campaign at the end of December, and the issue is only becoming more pressing as more and more people become eligible for the jab.

Eligibility, as well as the way booking systems work, varies from one part of the country to another as Italy’s vaccination programme is run by the various separate regional health services (Servizi Sanitari Regionali, SSR) that make up the national system. 

Residents wait to be vaccinated in Sicily. Photo: Gianluca CHININEA / AFP

From this week, regional health authorities can open up appointments to all age groups. Some are already offering the vaccine to younger groups, including under-18s in some regions.

And yet, many people in older age groups say they still haven’t been able to book due to the fact that most regions’ online platforms for appointment bookings require you to fill in the number of a tessera sanitaria.

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

Many people can’t complete this step, for example because they have private health insurance and therefore are not registered with the SSN, or because their health card is out of date. 

So if you’ve hit this roadblock, what should you do?

Ultimately you should be able to get vaccinated at one of the walk-in clinics Italy has promised to set up around the country by the time doses are more widely available. 

For now, however, vaccination in Italy remains by appointment only.

And there’s no option to pay to get your Covid-19 vaccine done privately in Italy (although the microstate of San Marino is offering the Russian Sputnik jab to tourists for 50 euros).

But, before you book a trip to San Marino, our advice is to contact your local ASL (regional health authority) by email or phone, or call your regional health service’s vaccination hotline to explain the situation, rather than trying to register using the online form.

If you don’t feel confident stating your case in Italian, you can have someone else, such as a friend or family member, call on your behalf.

READ ALSO: 

If you have a regular doctor in Italy, you should also consult them about your options.

You may also want to look into whether you are eligible to enrol in Italy’s public health system (find a guide here). 

The Local has heard from a handful of readers who were able to get vaccinated without an Italian health card, including an Austrian national who was (eventually) able to book an appointment in Rome by phone with only a codice fiscale, a British second-home owner who got his shot in Sicily when the island offered AstraZeneca to everyone over 60 without appointments one weekend, and a British teacher in Florence who qualified for vaccination through his job.

Unfortunately though, we’ve also heard from readers who say they were told flat-out by their local health authorities that they would not be able to register for vaccination without first signing up for national healthcare.

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

As with most things in Italy, what you may be told appears to vary between regions and provinces, and even depending on who you speak to.

Italian authorities have not yet agreed on a standard procedure for those who are not enrolled in the public health service. 

The Local has contacted the Italian Health Ministry and the Covid-19 Emergency Commission to ask how they plan to address this issue. We’ll publish any new information on this topic as we get it.

Until authorities address this issue, the best advice we can give is to know your rights and be persistent.

Have you been able to get vaccinated without an Italian health card? The Local would like to hear from you. Email us with your story.


Member comments

  1. I’m not sure how many people this may help but I found a very clever way to get around (in a completely legal and accepted way) around the issue that many are facing with the Health Card.

    I found that if you have the European Health Insurance card, you can simply insert the 20 digit number of that instead of the tessera sanitaria. I have done this (I live in Lombardia) through the online system which then gave me a notification that it may take up to 48 hours to verify the number. The next day I was invited to book my appointment!

  2. After being refused the vaccine at my doctor’s surgery because I did not have a tessera, I logged on to the Umbria vaccine site and had no trouble making an appointment using just my codice fiscale. There were no problems when I went for my first jab last Saturday.
    Of course, no sooner had I managed the booking when the change in Umbria’s rules on UK residents lacking a UK government pension or the famous S1 form kicked in. The CUP in Umbertide actually called me to say I could now pay a contribution and have a card.

    1. Yes Umbria is easier. The Lazio website has a field for a tessera number and if you don’t have one you can’t continue–it’s a required field. So you have to call, and get put on hold (for me 20 mins), but then you can book an appointment.

  3. Bless you and the Lazio health department, Max. Things are not so simple here in Sicily: constant reported confusion at the hubs, long unorganized lines, hubs running out of vaccines before half the queue of people holding reservations can get to the front–and sending people home with apologies such as “we’ll try to be better organized tomorrow,” not to mention that we still can’t get past the demand for a tessera sanitaria number when trying to make an online reservation. When the health department in a city issues a “free vaccine for all day” the lines are as much as eight-hours long. This warrants the Italian Health Ministry sending people here to help these hub workers and their team leaders sort out the confusion and put them on a proper path. In the meantime, half the people walking down the streets are not masking-up. If those of us who have a legitimate CF card and citizenship (but no health card for any variety of reasons) cannot get a vaccine, what will happen to the masses of immigrants and others with no ID out there who are so vulnerable? Isn’t the key to herd immunity to make sure “every person” is vaccinated? Fly into any one of many airports in other countries and the minute you’re off the plane you’re offered the vaccine–regardless of who you are or where you’re from. It’s a pityful mess here. CD

  4. I don’t have a tessera but easily booked an appointment over the phone with the Lazio vaccine hotline using my codice fiscale. At the Termini vaccine center I just showed my CF card and was ushered right in. Simple.

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