Italy ‘rediscovering normality’ thanks to high Covid vaccination rate, official says

Italy has one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe, authorities said, as they announced a new goal of fully immunising 90 percent of the population.

Italy has set a further vaccination goal as the country continues to outstrip the European average.
Italy has set a further vaccination goal as the country continues to outstrip the European average. Andreas SOLARO / AFP

The government set the new target after reaching its original goal of vaccinating 80 percent of the eligible population earlier this month, just over a week behind its deadline date.

“We are rediscovering normality thanks to the effect of an unprecedented vaccination campaign,” said Italy’s special commissioner for the coronavirus emergency, General Francesco Paolo Figliuolo, at a national security and justice event on Wednesday.

Italy has fully vaccinated more than 82 percent of the population aged over 12, while some 86 percent have had at least one dose, according to the latest government figures.

The data for vaccinations show that Italy is ahead of the European average, including countries like France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Only Spain has a higher rate of vaccination coverage, data shows.

The table from Our World in Data shows the ranking of Italy against the European average. This comparison is based on the vaccinated share of the total population (not only the eligible population), which is why the percentages are slightly lower than those given by the health ministry.

Meanwhile an expected rise in new cases after students returned to class in September – the so-called ‘school effect’ – has not materialised in Italy, according to evidence-based medicine foundation Gimbe.

This is “thanks to the vaccination of students and school staff, and the progressive vaccination coverage of the general population,” stated Renata Gili, head of Gimbe Research on Health Services.

As more than 1.2 million students still haven’t received a first dose, some outbreaks show that Italy still needs to keep its guard up to prevent the spread in classrooms, Gimbe stated in its latest report released on Wednesday.

READ ALSO: Which Italian regions have the highest Covid vaccination rates?

Out of Italy’s 21 regions, Sardinia has vaccinated the most students while Veneto is at the top of the table for the number of doses administered to school staff. The autonomous province of Bolzano lags behind in both cases.

Figures show that 67.2 percent of the population aged 12-19 years has completed the vaccination cycle, making up just over 3 million people in this age group.

AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru

The trend of vaccination coverage with at least one dose in the 12-19 age group has slowed down since September, after a sharp increase in early June, according to Gimbe.

91.2 percent of school staff have now completed the vaccination cycle and 3 percent – almost 46,000 personnel have received the first dose of vaccine, according to the figures.

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

There are over 90,000 school staff (5.8 percent of the total) who have still not yet received a single dose.

Italy is set to offer everyone a third dose of an anti-Covid vaccine from January, health officials said.

Italy is already administering booster shots to patients with fragile immune systems and serious medical conditions, people aged over 60 and health workers.

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Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.