The vaccine rollout in Italy’s hardest-hit region of Lombardy has been badly hampered by problems with booking systems, with at least one injection centre nearly empty at the weekend.
It’s been “a disaster, since the start,” the mayor of Crema city, Stefania Bonaldi, told the La Repubblica newspaper. “There is a bug in the system that needs fixing.”
A vaccination centre in the provincial capital Cremona was nearly empty over the weekend after people were not informed of their vaccine appointments.
Local officials scrambled to inform locals by calling them manually after looking up phone numbers in the civil registry, and one mayor borrowed a minivan to pick up the elderly from their homes, La Repubblica reported.
Similar problems were reported in the Como and Brianza provinces.
— Repubblica Milano (@rep_milano) March 21, 2021
Lombardy’s health minister Letizia Moratti pledged to take “quick and drastic decisions” to address the “unacceptable” situation. Regional president Attilio Fontana said he had asked the board of Aria, the regionally-owned company that manages vaccination bookings, to resign over the fiasco.
The region plans to switch its booking system to a platform developed by the Italian Post Office and already in use in other parts of the country.
Italy has reported vaccine delays across the country, a situation aggravated by the medicine agency’s decision to halt injections of the AstraZeneca vaccine for several days last week until EU regulators re-confirmed it was “safe and effective”.
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To date Italy has administered 7.8 million doses and fully vaccinated just under 2.5 million people — around 4.1 percent of a total population of 60 million.
There have also been major discrepancies across the country in terms of vaccinating the elderly, in part due to the fact that each region controls its own health service and can set its own vaccination schedule.
The percentage of people over 80 who have been fully vaccinated ranges from 36.5 percent in South Tyrol to 2.6 percent in Sardinia, according to the GIMBE independent health think.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who took office last month promising to use “all means” to fight the pandemic, has pledged a massive scale-up of vaccinations.
Speaking last week, he admitted that “regions are going all over the place [with vaccinations] and this is not good, not good”.
The government has set a target to triple vaccinations to 500,000 per day by mid-April, and to fully vaccinate 80 percent of the population by mid-September.
Yet Italy is only forecast to deliver 200,000 shots a day this week after a delivery of AstraZeneca vaccine scheduled for last week was cancelled when injections were paused. The extra doses will now be delivered in the coming days.
The health ministry promised to “double” the number of AstraZeneca shots after the suspension was lifted, having cost Italy around 200,000 vaccinations over four days.
It says jabs will be carried out in pharmacies and doctors’ offices to help speed up the process, though the biggest obstacle remains the shortage of doses.