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COVID-19 VACCINES

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

Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said the administration of third vaccine doses to 40-59 year olds will be brought forward to November 22nd, as the latest official data showed the health situation continues to worsen in Italy.

A medical worker vaccinates a patient with a dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine in Turin.
Italy is now urging more people to get a second Covid booster shot as the infection rate rises. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

“The contagion curve is rising in our country and, even more so, in European countries close to Italy. The vaccine is the main tool for reducing the spread of the virus and serious forms of disease,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on Thursday, Italian national broadcaster Rai reports.

“It is therefore right to bring the vaccine booster campaign for the 40-59 age group forward to November 22nd.”

The minister, speaking at an event organised by agricultural association Coldiretti, stressed that “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.”

READ ALSO: Italy’s new plans to contain the Covid fourth wave

Speranza noted that 86.86% of the eligible population in Italy has now had at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, “but we have to increase the number of vaccinations, both in terms of first and third doses. Convincing people who have doubts, including about third doses.”

As the latest wave of contagion grips Europe, Italy’s health ministry is so far relying heavily on the widespread use of the ‘green pass’ health certificate and the country’s relatively high level of vaccination coverage to keep the infection and hospitalisation rates down.

Italy’s ‘green pass’ has been a requirement at many indoor venues since August 6th, with the requirement now extended to workplaces. Photo: Andreas SOLARO/AFP

New measures currently being planned by the health ministry include the rollout of mandatory third doses for health workers, as well as a cut to the validity of green passes for the vaccinated from 12 to nine months.

Ministers and health experts have said repeatedly that the health situation in Italy is “under control” thanks to vaccines and the green pass, and that they do not expect it will be necessary for Italy to enforce tougher measures such as lockdowns and business closures in December and over the Christmas period.

While regional leaders are pushing for a change to the rules that would mean new restrictions this winter only apply to the unvaccinated, the national government has said this is not being considered for now.

EXPLAINED: Will Italy bring in a Covid lockdown for the unvaccinated?

Ministers have instead indicated that Italy is more likely to consider making vaccines mandatory for more groups.

Health Undersecretary Andrea Costa on Friday reiterated that the ministry was still discussing plans to introduce mandatory vaccination.

He said police and workers in “large-scale distribution centres” are among those who may face a vaccine mandate along with healthcare staff, for whom Covid vaccines have been mandatory since April.

“The only thing that can make us safe is the obligation to vaccinate, so that is a path on which we must have the courage to seriously reflect,” Costa told Rai Radio 1 on Friday.

His comments came as neighbouring Austria on Friday announced a new lockdown and vaccine mandate amid a soaring number of new cases, after previously enforcing additional restrictions only for the unvaccinated.

The latest figures from Italy, which has a higher vaccination rate than Austria, remain less dramatic despite another rise in the infection rate this week.

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

The weekly incidence rate rose to 98 per 100,000 inhabitants in the week of November 12-18th, up from 78 per 100,000 the previous week, according to a draft report from the health minisry ad Higher Health Institute (ISS) published on Friday.

Italy recorded more than 10,000 new coronavirus infections within 24 hours twice this week – a figure not seen since May this year.

There were 10,638 new cases detected in Italy on Wednesday and 69 more deaths attributed to Covid-19. This came after 10,172 new cases and 72 more victims were recorded on Tuesday.

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COVID-19 RULES

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.

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