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COVID-19 VACCINES

EXPLAINED: How Italy will vaccinate five to 11 year-olds against Covid

Italian health authorities have announced that they will start vaccinating Italy's 3.5 million children aged between five and 11 from Thursday. Here's what we know about how the rollout for children will work.

The vaccine rollout for children between five and 11 years old in Italy will begin this week.
What are the Covid-19 rules for children in Austria? (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Bookings for vaccinations among the five to 11 age group have already begun in Italy, following the national medicine regulater’s authorisation of the anti-Covid vaccine for this age group.

In a circular issued on December 7th, the health ministry stated that the vaccine rollout to this group of society is intended to protect public health and curb the spread of the virus.

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

The coordinator of Italy’s Scientific and Technical Committee Franco Locatelli said, “The spread of Covid in the paediatric age group is significant,” reported news agency Ansa.

“The five to 11 age group is the one that shows the greatest increase,” he added, pointing to the estimated incidence rate of 200 cases per 100,000 children over the past 7 days.

In the previous week, the national incidence rate overall was lower – at 196.6, according to official health data.

Immunisation of the 5-11 age group is not, however, aimed at obtaining the Covid-19 health certificate, or ‘green pass’, in order to access most of public life in Italy, as the health ministry’s circular reiterated that “children under 12 are exempt”.

Will the vaccine be obligatory for children?

No, just as for most adults in Italy the Covid vaccines will not be obligatory for children, like most vaccines in Italy.

Last week, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen urged Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe.

In Italy, mandatory vaccinations apply to healthcare workers, including pharmacy staff, and as of Wednesday, this will be extended to school staff, the military, police and rescue forces.

However, although the vaccine is not mandatory for five to 11-year-olds, the vice president of the Italian Society of Paediatrics (Sip) Giuseppe Banderali, told Rai News that it is “necessary” to vaccinate this age group.

Photo by Andrej Ivanov / AFP

“Although they have less serious clinical manifestations than adults and the elderly – as we have seen in Italy and worldwide – there are many children who have been hospitalised, some ending up in paediatric intensive care and unfortunately some have died,” he stated.

“Children in this age group also have the same rights as the rest of the world’s population to be vaccinated with an effective vaccine that is proving to be safe,” the health expert added.

READ ALSO:

When will vaccinations begin?

The nationwide vaccine rollout for children between five and 11 will begin on Thursday 16th December, however the region of Lazio will start one day earlier on Wednesday.

From Wednesday, the first batch of vaccines are expected to arrive in the regions, amounting to some 1.5 million doses.

Which vaccines will be available?

So far, only BioNTech/Pfizer has been approved by the EMA (European Medicines Agency) for use in children. However, the EMA could approve the Moderna vaccine later this month.

Clinical trials for under five-year-olds are currently underway.

How effective is it?

Trials of the vaccine in children have shown similar safety and efficacy results to those seen in trials of adults 16 to 25, at 90.7 percent, according to Pfizer.

What is the difference between an adult and a child dose?

Children in this age group will be given a third of an adult dose (10 micrograms instead of 30), the EMA’s approved dosage.

Each child who receives the vaccine will need to be accompanied by a parent.

How many weeks between the first and second dose?

The administration schedule is based on the use of two doses three weeks apart.

This is the same method adopted by the United States, which has opted for 21 days between doses for both children and adults.

Where will vaccinations take place?

It’s up to the regions to decide where the vaccinations will be administered, but many have appointed dedicated vaccination hubs.

For the most part, the doses will be administered in the existing vaccination hubs across the country where people aged 12 and up have already received the vaccine.

Lazio, for example, will have nine vaccination points available for the vaccine rollout among the five to 11 age group.

Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP

Who will be vaccinated first?

This phase of the vaccination campaign will start with children “with high vulnerability” and those living with immunocompromised people or with high Covid fragility – in other words, those who are more susceptible to falling ill from Covid.

Are there any side effects?

Like with any vaccine, there can be mild side effects. The ones in children are the same ones experienced by adults: fatigue, headaches, arm ache and muscle pain that will disappear 24 to 48h after the vaccine.

A few cases of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) have been detected in teenagers, but these were usually brief and patients recovered quickly without treatment.

According to the CTS, “although SARS-CoV-2 infection is certainly more benign in children, in some cases it may be associated with serious consequences, such as the risk of developing multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-c), which may also require admission to intensive care.”

But the health authorities pointed to its “effectiveness in preventing infection and its consequences”. Getting vaccinated also brings benefits, they added, “such as the possibility of attending school and leading a social life, both recreational and educational, which are particularly important for psychological and personality development in this age group”.

“In addition to the direct benefits, vaccinating children would lead to an increase in the vaccination coverage of the entire population and, therefore, to greater protection for the most fragile individuals of all ages, especially those living with children,” they stated.

Are there any children who cannot be vaccinated?

Vulnerable children should also be vaccinated, according to paediatrician Banderali.

“The anti-Covid vaccination for children aged 5-11 years is an effective and safe vaccination,” he said.

“Fragile children with chronic pathologies are at an advantage because they are the ones who risk more for complications and hospitalisations,” he added.

In fact, this group of children must be protected, according to Giovanni Corsello, editor of the Italian Journal of Paediatrics.

“There are very few children who cannot receive the vaccine, and those who are undergoing chemotherapy or for certain neoplastic diseases undergoing treatment are the only ones who are exempt,” he confirmed.

What happens if my child has or has had Covid? 

Children who have contracted Covid will have to wait until the virus symptoms have disappeared and then proceed with a single dose if this is within six months of infection. Otherwise, two doses are required.

This is because “the immunity that causes recovery is not high enough to protect children for long, as confirmed by studies,” clarified paediatrician Guido Castelli Gattinara.

Which other countries are vaccinating five to 11 year-olds?

The United States, Canada, China and Israel have started vaccinating under 12s with the Pfizer vaccine. Spain will start vaccinating children between five and 11 from Wednesday. Portugal’s health authority has also given the green light for the use of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for children between the ages of five and 11.

How to book a Covid vaccine for your child in Italy

The booking will need to be made through the website of your local health authority, as health services in Italy are managed on a regional basis.

Here are the links to the booking sites by region:

Lombardy

Piedmont

Liguria

Tuscany

Emilia Romagna

Lazio

Campania

Veneto

Friuli Venezia Giulia

Abruzzo

Marche

Puglia

The other regions use the central government Covid vaccine booking portal, which you can find HERE.

For more information on vaccine bookings, The Local has compiled a list of links to local health authority websites for each region and autonomous province in Italy.

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Italy approves fourth Covid vaccine doses for over-60s

Italy has extended the availability of a second Covid-19 vaccine booster shot as infection rates surge across the country.

Italy approves fourth Covid vaccine doses for over-60s

The Italian health ministry announced that fourth Covid vaccine doses, or second booster shots, will soon be available to all residents aged 60 and over, as national medicines regulator Aifa gave the green light on Monday.

Health minister Roberto Speranza said on Monday that doses could be administered to this age group “immediately”, as Italy “moves in line” with recommendations from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

“In the coming hours, immediately, already today, we will adapt our guidelines, our circulars and our indications. We will immediately open up administration in our regions.

“We mustn’t think that the battle against Covid is won. It is still ongoing and we must keep the level of caution high,” he said.

The health ministry confirmed in an update on its website that second booster doses were now recommended to “all persons aged 60 years or older, provided there has been an interval of at least 120 days since the first booster dose or the last post-booster infection (date of positive diagnostic test)”.

READ ALSO: Fourth jabs and isolation: Italy’s plan to control Covid cases this summer

The availability of fourth doses will vary by region, as each local health authority is responsible for managing the timing of its own vaccination campaign.

Several regions, including Lazio (around Rome) and Lombardy (around Milan), said on Monday that they would allow over-60s to book their fourth jabs within the coming days.

A fourth dose can be booked as usual, via pharmacies or family doctors, and via regional booking websites where available. (Find more information in a separate article here.)

Speranza didn’t say when second booster shots may be rolled out to all age groups, stating only that “a new vaccination campaign” is set to begin in September.

Health authorities have previously said they are not planning to make a fourth dose mandatory, though an annual “top-up” shot is likely to be offered.

Until now, only over-80s, care home residents, and clinically vulnerable patients have been eligible for a fourth shot in Italy.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

But health experts are also urging the government to speed up the administration of fourth jabs to these vulnerable groups: uptake remains far lower than hoped so far, with 78 percent of over-80s not getting theirs yet.

With the coronavirus infection rate now at its highest level since February, and the number of hospitalisations expected to keep rising in the coming weeks, the health ministry has not said whether it plans to bring back any recently-scrapped health measures.

For now, the government’s strategy appears to be focused on maintaining the relatively high rate of vaccination coverage in Italy: 90 percent of the population over 12 years old has been fully vaccinated with at least two doses, official figures show.

Find out more about booking a booster shot in Italy in a separate article here. See the government’s ‘prenotazione vaccino‘ (vaccine booking) website for links to regional authorities’ appointment reservation platforms.

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