Italy extends third doses of Covid vaccine to over-80s and care homes

Italy has begun administering Covid booster shots to the next priority groups based on those who are the most vulnerable, the health ministry has confirmed.

Italy extends third doses of Covid vaccine to over-80s and care homes

People aged 80 years and over and staff and guests of residential care facilities for the elderly are the latest groups to receive their third dose of an anti-Covid-19 vaccine, as laid down in the government’s latest circular.

“Let’s immediately give more protection to the most fragile and to those who work in healthcare facilities,” Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza told reporters on Monday.

Health professionals and healthcare workers aged 60 years and over or with pre-existing diseases that make them vulnerable to severe Covid-19 will be targeted “at a later date”, stipulated the document.

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

This group includes all those who “carry out their activities in public and private health, social and healthcare and social assistance structures, in pharmacies and professional practices,” the circular stated.

The strategy of administering a booster dose may also extend further to those who are highly fragile due to pre-existing illnesses, although for now this is “subject to the opinion of the regulatory agencies”, the circular clarified.

The third dose will be an mRNA vaccine, according to the indications from Italy’s Medicines Agency Aifa (L’Agenzia Italiana del Farmaco) – in Italy, the two authorised vaccines of this type are Comirnaty by BioNTech/Pfizer and Spikevax by Moderna.

This applies “regardless of the vaccine used for the primary cycle (Comirnaty, Spikevax, Vaxzevria or Janssen),” the circular read.

A medical worker fills a syringe with a dose of a Comirnaty Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine. (Photo by Marco Bertorello / AFP)

Italian authorities specified that a third vaccine dose “should be administered at least 6 months after completion of the primary vaccine cycle”.

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 guidance.

Which groups of the population may next be able to access a booster shot will be “decided on the basis of the acquisition of new scientific evidence and epidemiological trends,” the circular clarified.

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

The Italian government began rolling out a third dose of Covid vaccines last week, aimed at some 3 million vulnerable members of society such as those with compromised immune systems.

Within the first day, the authorities had administered more than 6,000 booster shots to those most at risk of the disease.

Italy has now issued some 53,000 third doses since this phase of the vaccination rollout began, according to the latest government figures on Tuesday.

The decision to begin a third dose rollout came amid the government’s debate on whether to make Covid vaccinations obligatory as the country strives to meet its immunisation targets this month.

As the end of September approaches, Italy looks on track to meet its target of immunising 80 percent of the population – just under 78 percent of the entire population over 12 years old have now completed their vaccination cycle, making up some 42 million people.

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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.