The administration of booster shots “will be possible five months after the completion of the first cycle,” Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza announced on Twitter on Monday evening.
He said Italy’s medicines agency AIFA was poised to give the green light to plans to bring boosters forward by a month.
Currently, booster shots can be given to those in eligible groups six months after completion of the initial vaccination cycle.
Speranza said the booster “is crucial to better protect us and those around us”.
The health ministry is set to publish a circular detailing the plans on Tuesday, with the rule change expected to come into force later this week.
A copy of the circular seen by national broadcaster Rai reportedly stated that: “The minimum interval foreseen for the administration of the booster dose with an m-RNA vaccine, to the categories for which it is already recommended (including all subjects vaccinated with a single dose of the Janssen (J&J) vaccine), is updated to five months (150 days) from the completion of the primary vaccination course, regardless of the vaccine previously used.”
AIFA reportedly advised that a third booster shot provides “maximum precaution”, considering that viral circulation has increased and also taking into account the resurgence of infection throughout Europe and in neighbouring countries such as Austria.
Italy’s Technical and Scientific Committee (CTS), the group of experts advising the government on health measures, also backed the proposal, stating that it is “appropriate” to introduce the booster dose starting from five months after completion of the primary vaccination cycle.
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Booster shots are already being administered to some groups in Italy, with 40-59 year-olds the latest category given access to a third dose from Monday.
The health ministry brought forward the administration of booster doses to more age groups as the latest official health data on Friday again showed that infection and hospitalisation rates continue to rise.
Italy is expected to start rolling out booster shots for the rest of the population from January 2022.
Speranza’s latest announcement came as ministers began talks on Monday night on a raft of new restrictions under a new government decree expected by Friday.
Speranza is reported to have said in a cabinet meeting on Monday that “these are delicate hours” and “further choices need to be made in the interest of the country”.
Italy’s health authorities have so far relied heavily on the vaccination campaign and widespread use of the ‘green pass’ health certificate to reduce the spread of the virus and keep hospitalisations down.
New measures currently being planned by the health authorities 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.
Those working in healthcare have been subject to a vaccine mandate since April, applicable to anyone working in public or private social health positions, including in pharmacies and doctors’ offices.
Italy’s deputy health minister Andrea Costa said making boosters mandatory for those working in healthcare “is a logical and common-sense move”.
Commenting on the vaccination campaign overall, he said it “has enabled us to contain the impact of this pandemic wave on health infrastructure.”
The government is also considering the possibility of extending the obligation to other groups, such as teachers, police officers and all front office personnel in direct contact with the public.
Almost 85 percent of Italy’s eligible population over 12 years old has now completed the first vaccination cycle, according to the latest figures.
Almost 3.5 million booster shots have been administered in Italy so far.