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What is Italy’s Covid vaccination plan this autumn?

As Italy's health minister stressed that Covid vaccines remain 'crucial' to protect the vulnerable, here's what we know so far about getting your booster this autumn.

An Italian health worker giving a jab to a patient.
Despite dropping infection rates, Italy is set to roll out its autumn Covid vaccination campaign. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Covid is seemingly still slowing down in Italy, with the number of new cases currently down by 19.4 percent compared to last week.

But, as Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on Wednesday, vaccines are “still a crucial tool to protect the most at-risk [individuals]” in the fight against the virus. 

READ ALSO: Italy gives green light to new dual-strain Covid vaccines

That’s why Italy will soon roll out its plan for the autumn vaccination drive, which, in line with European guidelines, will consist of a booster shot with increased efficacy against the new Covid variants.

Vaccination will not be mandatory, with the decision on whether or not to get the jab expected to be left to the public’s discretion and no plans for the reintroduction of the ‘green pass’ so far.

Though no definitive blueprint has been released yet and additional details are expected to be disclosed in the following days, the framework of the upcoming campaign has already been partly outlined by a ministerial memo published on Thursday and a press conference held by Nicola Magrini, director general of the Italian Medicines Agency (Aifa), on Friday.

Here’s what we know so far about Italy’s autumn jab drive so far.

What vaccines will be administered? 

The Comirnaty (Pfizer) and Spikevax (Moderna) dual-strain vaccines will be at the centre of the next vaccination campaign. 

Both vaccines were approved by the Italian Pharmaceuticals Agency (AIFA) on Monday and by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on Friday of last week.

As suggested by their name, the newly approved vaccines are bivalent, meaning that they are effective against both the original Wuhan strain and the more recent Omicron variants (BA.1, BA.4, BA.5).

The dual-strain vaccines have been shown to “generate an antibody response against the Omicron BA.4 and 5 variants”, which currently represent “96 percent of all strains isolated in Italy so far”, Magrini said.

Who will the next vaccination campaign be for?

According to the latest memo from the Italian health ministry and Magrini’s words on Friday, the new bivalent vaccines will be offered first to those at-risk patients, i.e. people over the age of 60, healthcare workers, care home residents and pregnant women, who haven’t yet received a second booster shot (fourth dose overall).

In a second stage, the autumn jab campaign should be expanded to encompass any individual over the age 12 who has only completed a single vaccination cycle. For this category of people, the new booster shot would be the third vaccine dose overall. 

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

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

It should be noted that, irrespective of the above categories, the booster shot will only be administered to people who received their last vaccine dose at least 120 days (about four months) prior to the new jab.  

When will it start?

Italy’s autumn vaccination campaign will officially start next week, with most regional booking services being available to the public starting from Monday, September 12th – bookings for Trentino Alto Adige residents will open as early as Saturday, September 10th.

Additional information about regions’ individual vaccination programmes are expected to be released in the following days.

READ ALSO: Italy to open Covid booster jab bookings from Monday

Earlier this week, Italian newspaper Repubblica suggested that the country’s local health authorities (ASLs) might choose to make the Covid vaccination campaign coincide with the annual flu jab campaign, with both shots being potentially administered at the same time.

Patients arriving at an Italian Covid vaccination centre.

Covid vaccination hubs might be set up provided that there is sufficient demand for the new booster shoot. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

There are currently no indications that the Italian government is planning on going down said route.

However, once again, it is likely that further details about the upcoming national vaccination programme will emerge in the next few days.

How will it work?

As in the case of the previous vaccination campaigns, each regional health authority will be required to abide by the guidelines set out by the health ministry but will be given broad powers over the management of their own local vaccination programmes, including their timing.

READ ALSO: Where and how to book a Covid-19 vaccine booster shot in Italy

Friday’s press conference confirmed that general practitioners and pharmacies will once again be heavily involved in the vaccination campaign. Vaccine hubs might also be built in densely populated areas provided that there is sufficient demand.

Finally, bookings will work in pretty much the same way as before, with patients being able to book their appointments through GPs, pharmacies or their ASL’s website where available.

For further information on regional authorities’ online reservation platforms, see the official vaccination booking website.

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Italy’s deputy health minister under fire after casting doubt on Covid vaccines

Opposition leaders called for health undersecretary Marcello Gemmato to resign on Tuesday after the official said he was not "for or against" vaccines.

Italy's deputy health minister under fire after casting doubt on Covid vaccines

Gemmato, a pharmacist and member of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party, made the remark during an appearance on the political talkshow ReStart on Rai 2 on Monday evening.

READ ALSO: Covid vaccines halved Italy’s death toll, study finds

In a widely-shared clip, the official criticises the previous government’s approach to the Covid pandemic, claiming that for a large part of the crisis Italy had the highest death rate and third highest ‘lethality’ rate (the proportion of Covid patients who died of the disease).

When journalist Aldo Cazzullo interjects to ask whether the toll would have been higher without vaccines, Gemmato responds: “that’s what you say,” and claimed: “We do not have the reverse burden of proof.”

The undersecretary goes on to say that he won’t “fall into the trap of taking a side for or against vaccines”.

After Gemmato’s comments, the president of Italy’s National Federation of Medical Guilds, Filippo Anelli, stressed that official figures showed the Italian vaccination campaign had already prevented some 150,000 deaths, slashing the country’s potential death toll by almost half.

Vaccines also prevented eight million cases of Covid-19, over 500,000 hospitalisations, and more than 55,000 admissions to intensive care, according to a report from Italy’s national health institute (ISS) in April 2021.

Gemmato’s comments provoked calls for him to step down, including from the head of the centre-left Democratic Party, Enrico Letta.

“A health undersecretary who doesn’t take his distance from no-vaxxers is certainly in the wrong job” wrote the leader of the centrist party Action, Carlo Calenda, on Twitter.

Infectious disease expert Matteo Bassetti of Genoa’s San Martino clinic also expressed shock.

“How is it possible to say that there is no scientific proof that vaccines have helped save the lives of millions of people? You just have to read the scientific literature,” Bassetti tweeted. 

In response to the backlash, Gemmato on Tuesday put out a statement saying he believes “vaccines are precious weapons against Covid” and claiming that his words were taken out of context and misused against him.

The Brothers of Italy party was harshly critical of the previous government’s approach to handling the Covid crisis, accusing the former government of using the pandemic as an excuse to “limit freedom” through its use of the ‘green pass’, a proof of vaccination required to access public spaces. 

But since coming into power, Meloni appears to have significantly softened her stance.

Her appointee for health minister, Orazio Schillaci, is a medical doctor who formed part of the team advising the Draghi administration on its handling of the pandemic.

Schillaci, a former dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery at Rome’s Tor Vergata University, has described the former government’s green pass scheme as an “indispensable tool for guaranteeing safety in university classrooms”.

Speaking at a session of the G20 on Tuesday, Meloni referenced the role of vaccines in bringing an end to the Covid pandemic.

“Thanks to the extraordinary work of health personnel, vaccines, prevention, and the accountability of citizens, life has gradually returned to normal,’ the prime minister said in a speech.