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HEALTH

Why September will be the ‘decisive’ month for Italy’s Covid vaccination campaign

After Italy's Covid-19 vaccination campaign slowed down significantly over summer, authorities remain confident about meeting the goal of vaccinating 80 percent of the eligible population by the end of September.

A 'no vax' protestor wearing a t-shirt reading
Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Although Italy’s prime minister declared at the end of July that the country was on track to vaccinate the entire population over the age of 12 by September 30th, it appears that the country is still aiming to vaccinate 80 percent of the population by that date.

“The goal declared in March to vaccinate 80 percent of the population over 12 years old will be fully completed by September 30th.” Italy’s special commissioner for the coronavirus emergency, Francesco Figliuolo, stated on Tuesday according to Italian media reports.

He restated the previously-set target following a dramatic decrease in the vaccination rate over summer.

At its height, Italy’s vaccination drive regularly met or exceeded its target of half a million jabs per day, but recently the figure has dropped to around half that.

Since August 13th, the number of vaccine doses administered in Italy has been hovering around 200,000 a day on average – the lowest Italy has seen since mid-March, when the vaccination effort was hindered by supply issues and other problems.

A low of around 50,000 was recorded on August 15th, the day of Italy’s national Ferragosto summer holiday.

Daily vaccine doses administered in Italy. Graph: GIMBE

More than 68 percent of the Italian population aged over 12 has now been fully vaccinated – some 36.8 million people, the latest official data showed on Wednesday.

Around 13 percent of the eligible population has neither had the vaccine nor booked an appointment, newspaper Corriere della Sera reported on Tuesday.

Figliuolo said that reaching this remaining section of the population “does not seem like a great feat, not of an organisational nature”.

But while 13 percent may not seem like much, it could still prove a challenge as this comprises all those who are refusing the vaccine and those who are undecided, as well as elderly and vulnerable people who are harder to reach and may have had problems accessing the vaccine.

The remaining percentage is “not composed only of resolute ‘no vax’ [a term frequently used in Italy for those who are against vaccinations], but also of the undecided, the lazy, and vacationers,” Corriere della Sera writes.

Deputy Health Minister Andrea Costa said the August drop in the vaccination rate was “due to holidays” and stressed that “September will be decisive: we will understand what share of this percentage is ‘no vax’ and how many are citizens who can be convinced. And then we will reflect on this.”

READ ALSO:  How big is Italy’s anti-vax movement really?

A protest in Milan on July 24th against the ‘green pass’ health certificate. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

This appears to mean that the type of health restrictions introduced (or reintroduced) in Italy from the end of September will depend at least partially on the progress of the vaccination campaign,

Italian ministers as well as health experts have previously suggested that the country could consider making the vaccine mandatory, at least for certain groups, if it cannot persuade enough people to get the jab voluntarily.

The health ministry this week proposed a further expansion of the use of Italy’s health pass which would make it mandatory for all key workers to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test result, including state employees and supermarket workers.

While this move has not been confirmed, from September 1st the digital pass will be a requirement for teachers and other school staff. Healthcare workers in Italy are already legally required to be fully vaccinated.

The national bioethics panel this week approved the possibility of making vaccination obligatory, at least for people working in public services.

“If you want to take part in society and not stay shut in at home you need to get vaccinated,” panel chair Maurizio Mori told the Ansa news agency.

READ ALSO: Italy says 99 percent of Covid deaths weren’t fully vaccinated

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has said that vaccination and the use of the health certificate is the only alternative to a new lockdown in future if case numbers continue to rise.

One strategy the Italian government has not recently mentioned when discussing its drive to increase vaccination coverage is the opening of walk-in clinics.

Italy’s health ministry said during the early stages of its vaccination campaign that, once priority groups were vaccinated, walk-in vaccine centres would be opened across the country to offer jabs without advance booking.

Though Italy is now offering jabs without reservation to all 12-18 year olds in order to speed up vaccinations ahead of the new school year, the promised pop-up vaccine kiosks have not materialised and vaccination without advance reservation is still not available to other age groups.

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

The bureaucracy involved in the booking process has meant many people in Italy have faced difficulties and delays in accessing vaccines. This issue particularly affects foreign residents, who often lack one or more of the pieces of documentation required in order to book an appointment (requirements vary by region).

While several Italian regional authorities have simplified their booking processes in recent months, some of The Local’s readers continue to report that they have been unable to access a Covid-19 vaccine in Italy.

For more information about the current coronavirus situation and health measures in Italy please see the official health ministry website (in English).

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Italy approves fourth Covid vaccine doses for over-60s

Italy has extended the availability of a second Covid-19 vaccine booster shot as infection rates surge across the country.

Italy approves fourth Covid vaccine doses for over-60s

The Italian health ministry announced that fourth Covid vaccine doses, or second booster shots, will soon be available to all residents aged 60 and over, as national medicines regulator Aifa gave the green light on Monday.

Health minister Roberto Speranza said on Monday that doses could be administered to this age group “immediately”, as Italy “moves in line” with recommendations from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

“In the coming hours, immediately, already today, we will adapt our guidelines, our circulars and our indications. We will immediately open up administration in our regions.

“We mustn’t think that the battle against Covid is won. It is still ongoing and we must keep the level of caution high,” he said.

The health ministry confirmed in an update on its website that second booster doses were now recommended to “all persons aged 60 years or older, provided there has been an interval of at least 120 days since the first booster dose or the last post-booster infection (date of positive diagnostic test)”.

READ ALSO: Fourth jabs and isolation: Italy’s plan to control Covid cases this summer

The availability of fourth doses will vary by region, as each local health authority is responsible for managing the timing of its own vaccination campaign.

Several regions, including Lazio (around Rome) and Lombardy (around Milan), said on Monday that they would allow over-60s to book their fourth jabs within the coming days.

A fourth dose can be booked as usual, via pharmacies or family doctors, and via regional booking websites where available. (Find more information in a separate article here.)

Speranza didn’t say when second booster shots may be rolled out to all age groups, stating only that “a new vaccination campaign” is set to begin in September.

Health authorities have previously said they are not planning to make a fourth dose mandatory, though an annual “top-up” shot is likely to be offered.

Until now, only over-80s, care home residents, and clinically vulnerable patients have been eligible for a fourth shot in Italy.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

But health experts are also urging the government to speed up the administration of fourth jabs to these vulnerable groups: uptake remains far lower than hoped so far, with 78 percent of over-80s not getting theirs yet.

With the coronavirus infection rate now at its highest level since February, and the number of hospitalisations expected to keep rising in the coming weeks, the health ministry has not said whether it plans to bring back any recently-scrapped health measures.

For now, the government’s strategy appears to be focused on maintaining the relatively high rate of vaccination coverage in Italy: 90 percent of the population over 12 years old has been fully vaccinated with at least two doses, official figures show.

Find out more about booking a booster shot in Italy in a separate article here. See the government’s ‘prenotazione vaccino‘ (vaccine booking) website for links to regional authorities’ appointment reservation platforms.

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