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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 RULES

Italy allows suspended anti-vax doctors to return to work

Italian heathcare staff suspended over their refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19 can now return to work, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni confirmed on Monday.

Italy allows suspended anti-vax doctors to return to work

Italy become the first country in Europe to make it obligatory for healthcare workers to be vaccinated, ruling in 2021 that they must have the jab or be transferred to other roles or suspended without pay.

That obligation had been set to expire in December, but was brought forward to Tuesday due to “a shortage of medical and health personnel”, Health Minister Orazio Schillaci said.

READ ALSO: Is Italy’s government planning to scrap all Covid measures?

Italy was the first European country to be hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, and has since registered nearly 180,000 deaths.

Schillaci first announced the plan to scrap the rule on Friday in a statement saying data showed the virus’ impact on hospitals  “is now limited”.

Those who refuse vaccination will be “reintegrated” into the workforce before the rule expires at the end of this year, as part of what the minister called a “gradual return to normality”.

Meloni said the move, which has been criticised by the centre-left as a win for anti-vax campaigners, would mean some 4,000 healthcare workers can return to work.

This includes some 1,579 doctors and dentists refusing vaccination, according to records at the end of October, representing 0.3 percent of all those registered with Italy’s National Federation of the Orders of Physicians, Surgeons and Dentists (Fnomceo) 

Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy party railed against the way Mario Draghi’s government handled the pandemic, when it was the main opposition party, and she promised to use her first cabinet meetings to mark a clear break in policies with her predecessor.

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