EXPLAINED: Who can access a third dose of the Covid vaccine in Italy?

Italy will administer third dose Covid-19 booster shots for everyone aged 40 and over from Monday, having previously offered them only to over-60s, the medically vulnerable, and health and care home workers. Who’s eligible, and what do you need to know about accessing a booster?

EXPLAINED: Who can access a third dose of the Covid vaccine in Italy?
Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

Italy will begin administering Covid-19 third dose booster shots to anyone aged 40 and over from November 22nd, after Health Minister Roberto Speranza announced on Thursday the government would bring forward the planned start date by one week.

Speaking at an event organised by agricultural association Coldiretti, the minister explained that a rising infection rate in Italy and across Europe was behind the health ministry’s decision to accelerate its booster campaign.

READ ALSO: Italy to start Covid boosters for over-40s on Monday as infection rate rises

“We are still inside the Covid challenge, and the numbers coming from EU countries indicate that there is a need to keep the level of attention very high,” Speranza told Italian news media present at the event.

The country began its rollout of third Covid-19 vaccine doses for the most at-risk members of the population on September 20th, adding health and and social care workers and the over-80s one week later, and extending the eligibility criteria to over-60s in mid-October.

“The third dose is an important piece of the strategy we have put in place,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on the late-night talk show Che tempo che fa when the government first launched its booster rollout.

READ ALSO: Almost all hospitalised Covid-19 patients in Italy are unvaccinated, says health watchdog

Here’s what we know about the campaign.

Who can get the vaccine?

The third dose is now available to anyone aged 40 and over, with local health authorities instructed to give priority to individuals who have yet to receive a single of the vaccine, as well as those most at risk from Covid-19 due to their age or medical status, according to the ministry’s latest official circular.

The doses were initially offered only to those with suppressed immune systems, including AIDs patients and those on dialysis for renal failure, as well as cancer patients and transplant recipients.

However, the eligibility criteria were quickly expanded to include care home workers, the over 80s, and health professionals by the end of September; over-60s by mid-October; and over-40s by late November, as Italy’s authorities struggle to bring the country’s rising contagion curve under control.

READ ALSO: Italy’s vaccination campaign slows as ‘green pass effect’ fails to materialise

How do you get the vaccine?

The process will vary depending on where you live. Immunocompromised Italians who fall into the health ministry’s ten most medically vulnerable categories should have been called in by their local health authority (ASL) or the hospital treating them, or summoned by the family doctor, according to the news outlet Il Sole 24 Ore. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to get a Covid-19 vaccine booster shot in Italy

Individuals with mobility issues who have trouble leaving the house can be vaccinated at home.

Anyone else eligible for the booster shot will likely need to take the initiative to go to their regional health authority’s website or call a vaccination centre or pharmacy and book the shot for themselves.

Those under the age of 40 who consider themselves in the ‘medically vulnerable’ category will need to attest to their health condition via a self-certification form and bring their green pass or vaccination certificate with them.

As with the rest of Italy’s immunisation campaign, the third dose rollout is being managed by regional authorities – so while the whole country was given the go-ahead to start administering the shots to over-40s from Monday, different regions will be running the effort at their own pace.

How soon after your second dose can you get the vaccine?

For immunosuppressed people, the third vaccine can be administered 28 days after the second dose – and should be given as soon as possible after that point, according to the health ministry’s latest guidance.

As things stand, boosters for all other categories can be administered no sooner than six months after the second shot.

However, Italy’s health authorities are discussing the possibility of reducing that interval to five months, reports Sky News.

Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

Which vaccines will be used?

Only the two mRNA vaccines currently approved for use in the EU – that’s the Pfizer Comirnaty vaccine and the Moderna Spikevax vaccine – will be used for the booster, according to the health ministry’s latest circular.

Both vaccines are now approved by the European Medicines Agency for anyone aged 12 and up, and are effective regardless of which vaccine you received for your initial cycle.

Do I have to get a third dose if I fall into one of the categories?

Not unless you fall into one of the categories of workers who are required to be vaccinated in order to do their jobs, such as health workers – for these individuals, a booster mandate is likely to be introduced.

For anyone else, getting a booster is highly recommended by the health ministry as a personal safety precaution and to help contain the fourth wave to prevent further restrictions and partial lockdowns – but is not compulsory.

How effective is the booster?

A recent study conducted by the Israeli healthcare provider Maccabi reportedly showed that a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine is 86 percent effective in preventing infections in over-60s.

Will the entire population be offered a third dose?

When Italy first began its booster rollout in September, it was unclear who would be offered a third dose.

At the time, the country’s infectious disease experts agreed that booster shots were important for higher-risk groups, but some said that it didn’t immediately appear necessary for those outside the most vulnerable categories, and argued that offering first doses to populations that remain largely unvaccinated should be the priority of western governments.

Since then, Italy’s coronavirus case rate has steadily risen and the country has entered into a fourth wave of Covid infections, and it looks increasingly likely that third doses of the vaccine will be offered to every demographic.

Speaking at a press conference in early November, Italy’s emergency coronavirus commissioner  Francesco Figliuolo told Italian media outlets that a third dose of the vaccine would be offered “to all those who have completed any type of vaccination cycle, at high figures.”

What are other countries doing?

The first countries to begin offering third doses of a Covid vaccine included Israel and the United States, while the UK began administering third doses at the end of September.

In Europe, countries including France and Austria began offering booster shots in late August. Many other EU countries say they’re still awaiting further data before they make a decision.

Member comments

  1. Once again we have the problem of booking a booster shot without a tessera sanitaria. It’s currently impossible on the Lazio website; even if you were already vaccinated in Lazio and have a green pass, you can’t book a booster online without entering a tessera number. The Covid hotline phone number is presumably the workaround but it’s always busy. By “always” I mean 24/7. Two different farmacie told me they can’t do anything without a tessera.

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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.