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Third doses and mandatory jabs: What’s next for Italy’s Covid vaccination campaign?

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Thursday said the government is considering whether to make Covid vaccinations obligatory in the final push to meet its immunisation targets this month.

Third doses and mandatory jabs: What's next for Italy's Covid vaccination campaign?
Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Answering a question at a press conference, Draghi confirmed that he was in favour of mandatory vaccines and that there are plans to administer third doses of Covid-19 vaccines for some groups.

He was asked if he thinks mandatory vaccination “can be introduced” once EMA and AIFA (the European and Italian drug regulators) have given full authorization for the use of Covid-19 vaccines, and whether the government thinks third doses will be needed.

Draghi simply responded “Yes to both questions.”

Health Minister Roberto Speranza added: “The vaccination obligation in our country is already in place for healthcare personnel, so in reality it already applies to part of our society”. 

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

He said expanding the legal obligation to vaccinate “is a possibility that remains at the disposal of our institutions, government, and Parliament.”

“The hypothesis is that it could be decided after the final approvals from the drug agencies, Ema and Aifa, which at the moment have given the green light for emergency use of the vaccines.”

Speranza also said that the administration of third vaccine doses “will begin in September” starting with “people who have a very fragile immune response”.

Photo: Tiziana FABI / AFP

Until now, the Italian government has said very little on the topic of potentially making the Covid-19 vaccination mandatory for all – although ministers had never ruled out the possibility.

Italy passed a law in April obliging anyone working in public or private social health positions, including in pharmacies and doctors’ offices, to get vaccinated against Covid-19 or be suspended without pay, unless their employer can reassign them to a non-public facing position.

On September 1st, a separate requirement was introduced for all school staff to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test result under the ‘green pass’ health certificate scheme.

The government has also been considering a further expansion which would make the pass mandatory for employees at workplaces deemed essential, including public offices and supermarkets.

READ ALSO: How Italy has tightened the ’green pass’ rules in September

Changes could potentially be announced in the coming weeks, as Italy’s health authorities aim to have 80 percent of the population over the age of 12 vaccinated by the end of September.

Several government ministers have reportedly been pushing for the legal vaccination requirement to be extended to more groups, and potentially to the general public, amid concerns that the country may not be able to reach the stated target this month.

However at the press conference Draghi insisted the vaccination campaign is “proceeding swiftly”.

Just over 70 percent of eligible people in Italy have had at least one dose while 63 percent are now fully vaccinated.

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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ITALIAN POLITICS

Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Italy’s government was plunged into turmoil on Tuesday as foreign minister Luigi Di Maio announced he was leaving his party to start a breakaway group.

Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Di Maio said his decision to leave the Five Star Movement (M5S) – the party he once led – was due to its “ambiguity” over Italy’s support of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

He accused the party’s current leader, former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, of undermining the coalition government’s efforts to support Ukraine and weakening Italy’s position within the EU.

“Today’s is a difficult decision I never imagined I would have to take … but today I and lots of other colleagues and friends are leaving the Five Star Movement,” Di Maio told a press conference on Tuesday.

“We are leaving what tomorrow will no longer be the first political force in parliament.”

His announcement came after months of tensions within the party, which has lost most of the popular support that propelled it to power in 2018 and risks being wiped out in national elections due next year.

The split threatens to bring instability to Draghi’s multi-party government, formed in February 2021 after a political crisis toppled the previous coalition.

As many as 60 former Five Star lawmakers have already signed up to Di Maio’s new group, “Together for the Future”, media reports said.

Di Maio played a key role in the rise of the once anti-establishment M5S, but as Italy’s chief diplomat he has embraced Draghi’s more pro-European views.

READ ALSO: How the rebel Five Star Movement joined Italy’s establishment

Despite Italy’s long-standing political and economic ties with Russia, Draghi’s government has taken a strongly pro-NATO stance, sending weapons and cash to help Ukraine while supporting EU sanctions against Russia.

Di Maio backed the premier’s strong support for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, including sending weapons for Kyiv to defend itself.

In this he has clashed with the head of Five Star, former premier Giuseppe Conte, who argues that Italy should focus on a diplomatic solution.

Di Maio attacked his former party without naming Conte, saying: “In these months, the main political force in parliament had the duty to support the diplomacy of the government and avoid ambiguity. But this was not the case,” he said.

Luigi Di Maio (R) applauds after Prime Minister Mario Draghi (L) addresses the Italian Senate on June 21st, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

“In this historic moment, support of European and Atlanticist values cannot be a mistake,” he added.

The Five Star Movement, he said, had risked the stability of the government “just to try to regain a few percentage points, without even succeeding”.

But a majority of lawmakers – including from the Five Star Movement – backed Draghi’s approach in March and again in a Senate vote on Tuesday.

Draghi earlier on Tuesday made clear his course was set.

“Italy will continue to work with the European Union and with our G7 partners to support Ukraine, to seek peace, to overcome this crisis,” he told the Senate, with Di Maio at his side.

“This is the mandate the government has received from parliament, from you. This is the guide for our action.”

The Five Star Movement stormed to power in 2018 general elections after winning a third of the vote on an anti-establishment ticket, and stayed in office even after Draghi was parachuted in to lead Italy in February 2021.

But while it once threatened to upend the political order in Italy, defections, policy U-turns and dismal polling have left it struggling for relevance.

“Today ends the story of the Five Star Movement,” tweeted former premier Matteo Renzi, who brought down the last Conte government by withdrawing his support.

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