Italy records rise in Covid vaccinations as ‘super green pass’ rules come in

The number of first doses of anti-Covid-19 vaccines in Italy rose for the first time in weeks ahead of the introduction on Monday of new restrictions on the unvaccinated.

People wait to be vaccinated at a hub in Milan.
People wait to be vaccinated at a hub in Milan. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

There was a 31 percent weekly increase in the number of first vaccine doses administered in the November 30-December 5th period, according to a report published on Thursday by Italy’s evidence-based medicine foundation GIMBE.

This was equal to 223,000 jabs in a week, health ministry data showed.

The modest uptick came after weeks of falling or stagnating vaccination rates, with the number dropping to a low of 105,000 in early November.

GIMBE attributed last week’s rise to the introduction of tighter restrictions on the unvaccinated under new ‘super green pass’ rules introduced on Monday.

In the same period, the number of third doses administered more than doubled.

Some 2.6 million booster jabs were administered, equal to a 52 percent increase week-on-week, the data showed.

The spike in booster uptake came as Italy began offering third jabs to all over-18s in the country from December 1st.

The Italian government has accelerated its booster campaign while tightening restrictions nationwide for those who choose not to get vaccinated as it pushes to keep immunisation levels in the country high amid a fourth wave of contagion.

READ ALSO: How Italy’s Covid green pass rules changed on Monday

A Civil Protection volunteer at a vaccination hub in Turin. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

The data published on Thursday also showed new coronavirus infections had risen by 22 percent over the same week, with a 12 percent rise in deaths, 16 percent increase in hospital admissions and 13 percent in ICU cases.

Access to many cultural and leisure venues, including nightclubs and sports facilities, is now restricted to those who can prove they are vaccinated or recovered under the new ‘super’ or reinforced green pass rules. Health passes which were issued based on recovery or vaccination will remain valid for entry to all venues.

Amid steadily rising infection and hospitalisation rates, several Italian regions are expected to be declared ‘yellow’ or ‘orange’ risk zones in the coming weeks under Italy’s tiered system of health rules.

However, under the ‘super green pass’ system, businesses can remain open and public transport will operate as usual – but with restrictions increasing further in ‘orange’ zones for those who are not vaccinated.

More than 88 percent of the Italian population has now had at least one dose of a vaccine, according to the latest health ministry data on Friday, while nearly 85 percent have completed the vaccination cycle (with two doses or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine).

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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.