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VACCINE

Italy sets new daily record for Covid vaccinations

A record 600,000 doses of Covid vaccine were administered in Italy on Friday, putting the country in second place in Europe for the number of people fully vaccinated, authorities said.

Italy sets new daily record for Covid vaccinations
Medical workers prepare doses of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine, in the rooms of the Claudia Comte exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art "Castello di Rivoli" near Turin. Photo: Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

“Yesterday was marked by a record number of injections in 24 hours which touched the 600,000 mark while the number of doses administered crossed the 37-million mark,” the government body in charge of vaccinations said on Saturday.

“Italy is in second place in Europe in terms of the number of people fully vaccinated, just behind Germany and ahead of France and Spain,” it added.

READ ALSO: Italy opens Covid vaccinations to all age groups

It said Friday’s record vaccinations were in part due to an increase in the number of vaccination centres which now stood at 2,666 against 1,500 at the start of March. About 800 new centres will be opened in the coming weeks.

According to official government figures, 37.06 million vaccine doses have been administered and 12.7 million people — or nearly 24 percent of the population aged above 12 — have been vaccinated.

The pandemic has claimed 126,415 lives in Italy where the number of cases and deaths has been falling steadily in recent weeks.

The government has been slowly easing Covid restrictions, relaxing a night curfew and opening up indoor dining in restaurants and bars.

READ ALSO: How can you book a Covid vaccination appointment in Italy?

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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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