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COVID-19 VACCINES

EXPLAINED: When and how will Italy offer a fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose?

As Italy's health minister indicated that a fourth shot of a Covid-19 vaccine may be made available later this year, here's what we know about the plan so far.

EXPLAINED: When and how will Italy offer a fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose?
Italy’s health authorities say they will consider whether a top-up dose of a Covid-19 vaccine should be offered to everyone later this year. Photo: Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Health Minister Roberto Speranza on Sunday said top-up shots of a Covid-19 vaccine for the general population are “probable” later in the year, as the national drugs regulator gave the green light to fourth doses for the immunocompromised.

“We will have to evaluate [fourth doses] for everyone after the summer,” Speranza said in an interview with newspaper Repubblica. “It is to be considered probable, because the virus won’t shake hands and leave forever, unfortunately,”

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

He added that 2022 “is the crucial year in which to understand if we will return to a fully normal life.”

“I’m optimistic, but the game is not over. In a few months part of the world will enter autumn: by observing them, we will understand what awaits us.”

Speranza’s comments came as the health ministry confirmed in an ordinance on Sunday that a fourth dose of a Covid vaccine can be administered to immunocompromised people, following approval from Aifa.

A fourth shot for those with compromised immune systems will be made available starting in March for those who had their last dose at least 120 days previously.

Earlier in February, Aifa director Nicola Magrini ruled out offering second booster doses to the general population in the coming months, saying a top-up jab may be offered instead.

“There won’t be a fourth dose, but a follow-up, hopefully annually,” Magrini said in an interview broadcast on the RaiTre television channel.

On Monday, Walter Ricciardi, professor of hygiene at Rome’s Catholic University and an advisor to the health minister, told La Stampa that it is “likely” another booster “will be useful for everyone” by autumn.

Ricciardi stressed that certain health measures should be kept in place even if the government ends the current state of emergency on March 31st as expected.

“The state of emergency may end, but with the foresight to keep in place the pillars that support our current freedoms,” Ricciardi said.

He said existing rules on vaccination, boosters, the Italian ‘green pass’ health certificate and on wearing masks indoors “must remain in place.”

The Italian government is currently evaluating when and how to proceed with relaxing nationwide health measures after Prime Minister Mario Draghi promised in early February that a “timeline” for relaxing the rules would soon be announced.

So far, few changes to the current restrictions have been confirmed, with parliament set to examine proposals later this week.

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Covid vaccines halved Italy’s death toll, study finds

Italy's Covid-19 vaccination campaign prevented some 150,000 deaths, slashing the country's death toll by almost half, the national health institute (ISS) said on Wednesday.

Covid vaccines halved Italy's death toll, study finds

Vaccines also prevented eight million cases of Covid-19, over 500,000 hospitalisations, and more than 55,000 admissions to intensive care, the ISS said in a press release announcing the publication of its report.

The report covers the period between December 27th, 2020, when the vaccination campaign began, and January 31st of this year, using a methodology initially developed for flu vaccines.

It said 72 percent of deaths avoided from the disease were among over-80s, 19 percent in the 70-79 range, 7 percent in the 60-69 range and 3 percent under 60.

Italy has been one of the countries worst affected by the  pandemic, with more than 160,000 deaths reported since February 2020, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain.

To date, almost 90 percent of the population over the age of 12 has been fully vaccinated, as well as just over 34 percent of children aged five to eleven.

Italy on Tuesday began offering a fourth dose of an anti-Covid 19 vaccine to those deemed at highest risk from the disease, including over-80s and care home residents.

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