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COVID-19 VACCINES

One in three recent Covid cases in Italy detected in children and young people

Italian health authorities have confirmed that one third of all Covid-19 cases in August were detected in children and young people between the ages of 0-19 years old, caused by the spread of the Delta variant.

One in three recent Covid cases in Italy detected in children and young people
Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

The total number of coronavirus infections among this age group in Italy has totalled 723,439 so far, including 32 deaths, according to the latest data from Italy’s Higher Health Institute (ISS).

The health body pointed to the spread of the Delta variant as the reason for the increase, which was behind 88.1 percent of total cases reported to their Integrated Surveillance System over the 45 days until August 30th.

As children return to school for the new academic year and authorities work to stem a new surge in infections, the Italian Paediatricians’ Association (Società Italiana di Pediatria) has issued advice to answer the most frequently asked questions about vaccination in children over 12.

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

“The Delta variant is causing an increase in the incidence of paediatric cases in Italy. In August, about 29 percent of the total number of Covid-19 cases involved children under 19, as can be seen by analysing ISS data in detail,” said SIP president Annamaria Staiano.

In fact, according to the bulletin data, the number of reports of cases caused by the Delta variant (lineage B.1.617.2) in Italy “is still higher than the number of reports for all the other variants monitored,” read the latest health summary.

 Photo: NORBERTO DUARTE / AFP

Paediatricians recommend immunising young people aged 12 and over at this crucial time in the calendar “even if they do not suffer from other diseases, are at risk of hospitalisation or serious illnesses”.

The children’s health body reviewed concerns about side effects of vaccinating children, including fears over a heart condition called myocarditis.

“It is difficult to establish a direct link with the vaccine”, confirmed the experts, indicating that the cases that have occurred, as well as being very rare, “have all been small and resolved in a short time”.

Just under 40 percent of 12-19 year-olds are fully vaccinated in Italy, according to the latest government figures. Children under 12 can’t currently get vaccinated as no inoculations have been approved for this age group.

Reader question: What are the quarantine rules for unvaccinated children travelling to Italy?

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) continues to review possible vaccinations in children under 12.

President of the Italian Society of Paediatricians (Società Italiana Medici Pediatri), Giuseppe Mele, told reporters that the studies underway on vaccination for the youngest children are “reassuring”.

ISS data indicated that the Delta variant has been detected in almost all of Italy’s provinces, while the Alpha variant continues to drop sharply.

This is to be expected as the Delta variant “is characterised by greater transmissibility than the Alpha variant (between 40 percent and 60 percent)” and has a high risk of infection in partially vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals, according to the ISS.

Meanwhile, Italy has begun its rollout of a third anti-Covid dose to those considered the most fragile and vulnerable.

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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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