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VACCINE

UPDATE: Italy to ‘double’ AstraZeneca vaccinations after resuming jabs on Friday

Italy has resumed administering AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine on Friday afternoon after EU drug regulators confirmed it was 'safe and effective'.

UPDATE: Italy to 'double' AstraZeneca vaccinations after resuming jabs on Friday
Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

Italy suspended the use of the jab on Monday, one of a number of European countries taking precautionary action following concerns it was linked to rare blood clots.

“The administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine will resume tomorrow. The government’s priority remains to carry out as many vaccinations as possible in the shortest possible time,” Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said in a statement.

READ ALSO: AstraZeneca vaccine ‘safe and effective’ against Covid-19, European Medicines Agency concludes

The director general of Italian medicines agency AIFA, Nicola Magrini, told a press conference earlier on Friday that it had lifted the ban after the green light from European Medicines Agency (EMA).

Magrini said that “the vaccine is safe, without age limits” and that a suspected link between the jab and rare blood clots or thrombosis had not been confirmed.

The health ministry’s prevention chief Gianni Rezza said that after the pause, the number of AstraZeneca vaccinations would now be “doubled”.

Rezza said there would be no change in vaccination procedures, but that the information leaflet on informed consent would be updated.

At one reopened vaccination in Rome on Friday afternoon, a queue of people with appointments quickly formed outside while others unsuccessfully tried to get a slot.

Most said they had no concerns about being vaccinated with AstraZeneca, although there was some frustration at the suspension of the programme at a time when most of Italy is locked down because of a surge in cases.

“I feel sad because, of course it is better to be safe, to study (the evidence), but in the end nothing changed, so we just lost four days,” one patient told AFP.

People in front of a vaccination centre outside Rome’s Termini train station as Italy resumed administering AstraZeneca vaccines on Friday, five days after suspending the programme over safety fears. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

After an emergency investigation, the EMA concluded on Thursday that the vaccine, developed at Oxford University, is “a safe and effective vaccine whose benefits in protecting people from Covid-19 hugely outweigh the risks”.

The EMA will continue to study any possible links between the injection and rare cases of blood clots.

Draghi’s government has said the vaccination campaign, which has had a slow start, is the only way out of the crisis.

It has set a target to triple vaccinations to 500,000 per day by mid-April and to fully vaccinate 80 per cent of the population by mid-September.

READ ALSO:

Almost 104,000 people with coronavirus have died in Italy in the past year, and the death toll is still rising by hundreds each day.

Yet there are fears the AstraZeneca row could strengthen opposition to the campaign in a country where so-called anti-vaxxer sentiment was already widespread.

An EMG institute survey for the Adnkronos news agency published on Wednesday asked respondents if the affair had damaged their confidence in vaccines, to which 49 percent answered yes and 49 percent no.

Government sources told AFP this week that the suspension of the AstraZeneca jabs meant around 200,000 fewer vaccinations this week.

Among the options reportedly under consideration to help catch up on the missed jabs are allowing pharmacies to administer vaccines and keeping vaccination clinics open round the clock.

After the EMA’s ruling on Thursday, some regional health services said that they would contact people whose appointment was cancelled to reschedule, while anyone who had an appointment from 3pm on Friday should go to their vaccination centre as planned.

Find where to get information about vaccinations in your region of Italy here.

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COVID-19

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

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

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”

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