The date, which was previously only hypothetical, was confirmed on Monday morning by emergency commissioner Francesco Paolo Figliuolo during a visit to a vaccination hub in Cuneo in the northern Italian region of Piedmont, reports Italian news agency Ansa.
Italy is currently allowing the administration of booster shots five months after the completion of the initial vaccination cycle (two doses of an anti-Covid-19 vaccine, or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine).
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Figliuolo said on Monday that shortening the gap between doses “will give a further boost” to Italy’s vaccination campaign.
He added that health authorities are “racing to try to stem the Omicron variant”, with the new measures announced as cases soared to an all-time high in recent days.
The change was first announced on Thursday as the Italian government approved a new decree containing a raft of tightened health precautions, though no definite date was initially given for bringing booster doses forward.
Almost 90 percent of the Italian population now has at least some immunity to Covid, Figliuolo said, “between first doses and those recovered within the past six months” but he noted that around 5.7 million eligible adults in Italy remain unvaccinated, with numbers particularly high in the 30-59 age group.
“I’m still concerned by the vaccine hesitant, there are a few million people who could give us a hand in curbing the virus and especially these variants,” he said.
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Asked if the government will consider further measures to increase vaccination coverage, such as a long-discussed vaccine mandate for the general public, Figliuolo said “I believe that bringing forward the third dose forward to four months from January 10th is a balanced choice for now, but I don’t want to rule anything out.”
“We have seen how quickly this virus moves with its variants, and that what one says today can be changed tomorrow by evidence from the field,” he said.
“Omicron is much more contagious than Delta, some say up to five times more,” he continued. “Fortunately for now there is no clinical evidence of increased seriousness, however it is clear that those who are fully vaccinated and especially those who have had the booster are well covered against Omicron.”
As coronavirus infection rates soared above 50,000 a day in Italy over the Christmas period, forcing hundreds of thousands of people into isolation over the holidays, health experts called for a review of current rules requiring seven days of isolation if vaccinated and a ten-day period for those who are not vaccinated.
For further details about Italy’s current Covid-19 health measures please see the Italian Health Ministry’s website (available in English).