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CRIME

Covid vaccine bookings halted in Rome as hackers shut down regional government websites

Local officials said foreign hackers were behind a cyberattack on government systems in Lazio, the Italian region that includes Rome, which has meant people cannot make new bookings for coronavirus vaccinations in the area.

Covid vaccine bookings halted in Rome as hackers shut down regional government websites
A vaccination centre in Rome. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

“The attacks are ongoing, the situation is very serious indeed,” regional governor Nicola Zingaretti told a press conference on Monday, as the head of Italy’s intelligence agency was called in to address parliament’s security committee on the incident.

The hack, “by persons unknown… from outside the country”, was launched on Saturday night and brought vaccine bookings to a halt, Zingaretti confirmed.

Jabs already reserved until August 13th would go ahead, he said.

READ ALSO: Italy says whole population will be vaccinated by end of September

“The attack was very powerful… Probably the most serious ever launched on our national territory,” Zingaretti said, describing the hackers as “criminal or terrorist”.

All computer servers in the regional government in Lazio have been shut down in a bid to stop the virus spreading.

The region’s website, www.regione.lazio.it, was still down on Monday evening.

The site for booking vaccinations was also unavailable.

Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

The attackers used ransomware, a form of malware that encrypts the victim’s files, a regional official said.

A ransom, usually in bitcoins, is demanded in exchange for the key to decrypt the data.

However, no ransom request had yet been made for the Lazio website, Zingaretti said.

The attack is believed to have been launched from Germany, newspaper La Repubblica reports, and hackers are thought to have gained access to the regional network via a computer belonging to a government agency employee which “had been left open”.

The system holds data on “all citizens” in the capital region, Repubblica writes, including “the entire ruling class of the country, from (President) Mattarella to (Prime Minister) Draghi”

Some 66 percent of the adult population in Lazio have been vaccinated, according to officials.

Nationwide, 60 percent of Italy’s population over 12 years old has been fully vaccinated, with 68.5 million total doses administered.

In June the Italian government set up a new agency specialised in cybersecurity in order to fight an increasing number of attacks on official systems.

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Italy opens Covid booster jab bookings from Monday

Regional health services in Italy will open bookings for Covid-19 booster shots to priority groups from Monday as the first deliveries of updated vaccines arrived in the country.

Italy opens Covid booster jab bookings from Monday

“From Monday, September 12th, bookings for the new dual-strain vaccines can begin at the regional level,” said director general of the Italian Medicines Agency (Aifa), Nicola Magrini, at a health ministry press conference on Friday.

Booster shots will not be mandatory and will be offered to priority groups first, health authorities confirmed.

READ ALSO: Italy gives green light to new dual-strain Covid vaccines

“The arrival of the new vaccines should strengthen the conviction of those who have to take the fourth dose because of their age or because they have other conditions,” Magrini said. 

Aifa on Monday approved the Comirnaty (Pfizer) and Spikevax (Moderna) dual-strain vaccines, which are effective against both the original strain and the more recent Omicron variants.

Italy will receive 19 million doses of the new vaccines in September, said Franco Locatelli, president of Italy’s Higher Health Council (ISS), at the press conference. 

The updated vaccines have been shown to “generate an antibody response against the Omicron Ba4 and 5 variants, which are the prevalent ones,” he said.

They represent “96 percent of all strains isolated in Italy so far”, he said.

Italian healthcare workers preparing doses of Covid vaccine.

The new dual-strain vaccines will be offered first to at-risk patients, including people aged over 60 and care home residents. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

Covid vaccines “have been a triumph of science and medicine” and “have saved millions of lives”, Locatelli added.

Booster jabs are currently recommended for those in higher-risk categories as Italy begins its autumn vaccination campaign.

Priority will be given to those who are still waiting to receive a second booster dose (the so-called fourth dose); therefore over-60s and people with health conditions that make them more susceptible to developing more severe forms of the Covid-19 disease, according to the latest memo from the health ministry.

READ ALSO: What is Italy’s Covid vaccination plan this autumn?

Magrini said the priority list also includes “health workers, pregnant women, and residents of facilities for the elderly”.

But “it can also be administered to those under 60 who ask for it,” he added.

Booster shots can only be administered to those who received their last dose at least 120 days (about four months) earlier.

The vaccination campaign is expected to be expanded to all over-12s who have only completed the initial vaccination cycle. For this category, the new booster shot would be their third dose.

How do you book a booster shot?

As in previous vaccination campaigns, each regional health authority will manage their own local vaccination programmes, including their timing.

Bookings should work in much the same way as before, with patients being able to book their appointments through GPs, pharmacies or their ASL’s website where available.

Shots can be administered by family doctors as well as at designated vaccination hubs in more densely populated areas.

The autonomous province of Trentino said it will begin administering jabs immediately from Monday and will allow residents to begin booking jabs from Saturday, September 10th.

Other regions and autonomous provinces are expected to announce their plans in the coming days.

For further information on availability and reservation in your region, see the official vaccination booking website.

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