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.
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.
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).