Covid-19: Italy to offer third vaccine doses from next week as infection rate falls

The Italian government will make anti-Covid vaccine booster shots available to three million people in the most at-risk categories from next week, the health minister has confirmed.

Covid-19: Italy to offer third vaccine doses from next week as infection rate falls
Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza announced the start date of the campaign on Monday night following a meeting with coronavirus emergency commissioner Francesco Figliuolo,

He said third doses will be offered first to those with suppressed immune systems, such as cancer patients and transplant recipients – some three million people in Italy, news agency Ansa reports.

After that, the third round of the vaccination campaign will focus on care home residents and healthcare workers, Speranza added.

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

The administration of third vaccine doses are supported by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), which stated in its latest September report that the provision of additional shots should “remain the current priority” in the EU and EEA.

Infectious disease experts in Italy agree that booster shots are necessary for higher-risk groups, though some say they remain unsure if a third dose will be necessary for the entire population.

“I am in favour of a third dose, starting with the immunosuppressed and then, 9-12 months after the end of the vaccination cycle with two doses, also for the rest of the population”, Massimo Andreoni, head of Infectious Disease at the Tor Vergata Polyclinic, told Ansa.

“The third dose is necessary because the number of antibodies against the SarsCov2 virus induced by vaccination progressively decreases. This happens in all cases, but the time this takes differs [from one person to another].”

“We’re seeing that the number of antibodies tends to decrease after 9-12 months, and according to some studies even after six months,” he said.

The coronavirus infection rate remains relatively low in Italy at the moment, with 4,021 cases recorded on Tuesday and numbers dropping overall since September 1st..

The decision to begin a third dose rollout in Italy was first announced at a press conference on September 3rd, at which Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi also confirmed the government is considering making Covid vaccinations obligatory amid the final push for Italy to meet its immunisation targets this month.

While no other European country is currently considering such a move, Speranza said Italy will go ahead with making vaccines mandatory “without fear” if it is deemed necessary “to protect the right to health”.

A decision on obligatory jabs is expected by the end of September, and will partly depend on what percentage of the population could be persuaded to get the jab voluntarily by that date.

Italy aims to have 80 percent of the population over 12 years old vaccinated by September 30th.

The current figure as of Tuesday stands at 74 percent, according to the latest government data – a two percent increase over the past seven days.

Italy passed a law in April making vaccination compulsory for anyone working in public or private social health positions, including in pharmacies and doctors’ offices. Those who refuse can be suspended without pay.

UPDATE: Italy approves mandatory Covid ‘green pass’ in more workplaces

On September 1st, Italy introduced a separate requirement 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 since announced plans to further expand its health pass requirement to employees at more workplaces in the coming weeks.

Ministers have said the use of the green pass scheme is being extended as an alternative to reinstating health measures such as business closures and travel restrictions.

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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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.