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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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.