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COVID-19 VACCINES

Italy plans mandatory third jabs for health workers as Covid infections soar

As new cases of Covid-19 have shot up among doctors and nurses, the Italian government is looking at extending the vaccine requirement for those working in healthcare.

A booster shot could be made mandatory for healthcare workers
A booster shot could be made mandatory for healthcare workers "very soon". Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

A proposal to make third doses of an anti-Covid vaccine mandatory for healthcare workers is expected to go before the Council of Ministers, Italy’s government cabinet, this week.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on Friday that a mandatory booster shot for medical professionals will come “very soon”, reports newspaper La Repubblica.

“Let’s speed up third doses to stop the fourth wave,” stated Speranza following the publication of health data showing a further worsening of the health situation across the country.

“The increase in infections is objective. What should we do? Let’s say it’s like realising that the water is rising. We have no time to lose,” he said. “We must play in advance, as this virus has taught us that it moves quickly.” 

READ ALSO: Italy to offer Covid booster jabs to all over-40s from December

All healthcare workers in Italy, including pharmacy staff, have been subject to a vaccine mandate since a law was passed in April, with those who refuse being reassigned to roles away from the public where possible or suspended without pay.

Any new obligation to get a booster shot is expected to cover the same healthcare staff as Italy’s initial vaccine mandate.

The move comes as health data shows the increase in infections among healthcare workers has tripled in the past two months.

From September to November, the incidence rate of Covid cases among healthcare workers rose by 192.3 percent, according to data publised on Friday in the latest report from the health ministry and the Higher Health Institute (ISS).

This group was among the first to be vaccinated as a priority at the beginning of 2021. In the last month up to November 14th, there were 2,736 cases compared to 2,396 in the previous month and 936 in the period of mid-August to mid-September.

Of these infections, 82 percent are nurses, the report found.

READ ALSO: Italy’s fourth Covid wave ‘can be reduced’, says health expert

Photo: Theo Rouby / AFP

The latest data showed that the protection offered by the vaccine drops considerably after six months – which may partly explain why this early-vaccinated group in particular is seeing a rise in contagion.

The vaccine’s coverage against infection has been found to drop to an average of 50.2 percent after six months, while within the six months after the last dose, protection remains at 75.7 percent on average.

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

“We are worried,” Speranza added, comparing Italy to other European countries. “Let’s look at those who are close to us, at Austria, with its nine million inhabitants and 12,000 cases a day – that’s like if we had 75,000 [cases per day in Italy].

“In Italy an increase is already happening and it is realistic to think that it will continue in the next few weeks,” he stated.

Noting that what’s happening in other European countries indicates a trend, he said that Italy cannot ignore the resurgence of coronavirus in neighbouring states.

“Our data are a little better than others because vaccination rates are higher. This gives us a small advantage,” added Speranza, referring to the 84 percent of the population over 12 years old who are now fully vaccinated.

On Monday, Health Undersecretary Andrea Costa played down reports that restrictions would be tightened further due to the increase and said the health situation in in Italy was “under control”.

READ ALSO: Is Italy likely to bring back Covid restrictions this Christmas?

“We should look to the coming weeks with confidence while being aware that we certainly have not emerged from the pandemic,” he told Radio 24.

But he added that Covid vaccines could still become obligatory for some, under plans the government has been considering since late summer.

The government has been considering making vaccination mandatory for more groups since September as it pushes to vaccinate 90 percent of the eligible population.

Authorities have so far given no indication as to if or when vaccinations could actually be made mandatory for more categories or for the general population.

Italy is currently offering a third dose to over-60s, the immunocompromised and medically vulnerable, health workers, the staff and residents of care homes, and those who received the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine more than six months ago.

Booster shots will be offered to everyone over the age of 40 in Italy from December 1st, while authorities aim to start offering a third dose to all age groups from early 2022.

For now, one anti-Covid measure is sure to stay in place: masks indoors.

“There is no doubt that they will remain. They have a relatively low social and economic cost, they are decisive. And they must also be worn outdoors if there are crowds. It is an obligation, let’s not forget,” Speranza said.

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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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