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COVID-19 VACCINES

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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COVID-19 VACCINES

Italy opens Covid booster jab bookings from Monday

Regional health services in Italy will open bookings for Covid-19 booster shots to priority groups from Monday as the first deliveries of updated vaccines arrived in the country.

Italy opens Covid booster jab bookings from Monday

“From Monday, September 12th, bookings for the new dual-strain vaccines can begin at the regional level,” said director general of the Italian Medicines Agency (Aifa), Nicola Magrini, at a health ministry press conference on Friday.

Booster shots will not be mandatory and will be offered to priority groups first, health authorities confirmed.

READ ALSO: Italy gives green light to new dual-strain Covid vaccines

“The arrival of the new vaccines should strengthen the conviction of those who have to take the fourth dose because of their age or because they have other conditions,” Magrini said. 

Aifa on Monday approved the Comirnaty (Pfizer) and Spikevax (Moderna) dual-strain vaccines, which are effective against both the original strain and the more recent Omicron variants.

Italy will receive 19 million doses of the new vaccines in September, said Franco Locatelli, president of Italy’s Higher Health Council (ISS), at the press conference. 

The updated vaccines have been shown to “generate an antibody response against the Omicron Ba4 and 5 variants, which are the prevalent ones,” he said.

They represent “96 percent of all strains isolated in Italy so far”, he said.

Italian healthcare workers preparing doses of Covid vaccine.

The new dual-strain vaccines will be offered first to at-risk patients, including people aged over 60 and care home residents. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

Covid vaccines “have been a triumph of science and medicine” and “have saved millions of lives”, Locatelli added.

Booster jabs are currently recommended for those in higher-risk categories as Italy begins its autumn vaccination campaign.

Priority will be given to those who are still waiting to receive a second booster dose (the so-called fourth dose); therefore over-60s and people with health conditions that make them more susceptible to developing more severe forms of the Covid-19 disease, according to the latest memo from the health ministry.

READ ALSO: What is Italy’s Covid vaccination plan this autumn?

Magrini said the priority list also includes “health workers, pregnant women, and residents of facilities for the elderly”.

But “it can also be administered to those under 60 who ask for it,” he added.

Booster shots can only be administered to those who received their last dose at least 120 days (about four months) earlier.

The vaccination campaign is expected to be expanded to all over-12s who have only completed the initial vaccination cycle. For this category, the new booster shot would be their third dose.

How do you book a booster shot?

As in previous vaccination campaigns, each regional health authority will manage their own local vaccination programmes, including their timing.

Bookings should work in much the same way as before, with patients being able to book their appointments through GPs, pharmacies or their ASL’s website where available.

Shots can be administered by family doctors as well as at designated vaccination hubs in more densely populated areas.

The autonomous province of Trentino said it will begin administering jabs immediately from Monday and will allow residents to begin booking jabs from Saturday, September 10th.

Other regions and autonomous provinces are expected to announce their plans in the coming days.

For further information on availability and reservation in your region, see the official vaccination booking website.

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