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Covid-19: Eight in ten Sicilians offered AstraZeneca jab now ‘refusing’ it

Up to 80 percent of people offered the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine In Sicily refuse it out of fears over its safety, according to the southern Italian region's president Nello Musumeci.

Covid-19: Eight in ten Sicilians offered AstraZeneca jab now 'refusing' it
A spokesman for Sicilian regional president Nello Musumeci later said he had meant to say 'up to 80 percent'. Photo: Carmelo Lenzo/AFP

Public confidence in the Anglo-Swedish jab has been badly shaken by reports linking it to rare, but potentially fatal, blood clots, and by conflicting recommendations on its use.

“In Sicily, there is an 80-percent refusal rate of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Every 100 people, 80 say no,” Musumeci said late Saturday in Catania,
according to multiple media reports.

EXPLAINED: Why has Italy recommended the AstraZeneca vaccine for over-60s only?

Musumeci added: “It is natural” for people to be particularly concerned, but we have a duty to believe scientists when they say it is more dangerous
not to get vaccinated than to get vaccinated.”

The president actually meant to say “up to 80 percent,” his spokeswoman Michela Giuffrida told AFP on Sunday, adding, as an example, that in the town of Syracuse the refusal rate was “30 percent.”

A large-scale boycott of the AstraZeneca jab would put Italy’s vaccination plan — already struggling with supply shortages and botched priorities – under further stress.

86 cases out of 25 million

Earlier this week, the European Medicine Agency (EMA) said blood clots should be listed as a “very rare” side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but added that benefits continued to outweigh risks.

The announcement came after EMA examined 86 blood clotting cases, 18 of which were fatal, out of around 25 million people in Europe who received the AstraZeneca vaccine. Most of the cases were in women aged under 60.

READ MORE: ‘Possible link’ between AstraZeneca vaccine and rare blood clots, EMA concludes

In response to the findings, Italy – which initially recommended the AstraZeneca vaccine for those in the 18-55 age group – restricted its use to those aged 60 and above.

Similar action was taken in other European countries. On Friday, the EU medicines regulator also said it was probing a possible link between the AstraZeneca jab and a separate blood vessel disorder causing tissue swelling and a drop in blood pressure.

But the Italian government’s top scientific advisor on the coronavirus crisis, Franco Locatelli, insisted in a Sunday interview that fears over the Anglo-Swedish vaccine were “understandable, but unjustified.”

“I say that we are offering a vaccine that is safe and effective, which people must accept. That said, if we find ourselves facing a disarming number of defections, we will reconsider the issue,” he told La Stampa daily.

IN CHARTS: Who is Italy vaccinating fastest?

Italy is one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic, with almost 114,000 dead, but its vaccination drive has been criticised for failing to focus on the most at-risk group — the elderly.

People in their 70s are among those most neglected, with only 2.7 percent fully vaccinated compared with 4.1 per cent for people in their 20s.

Overall, Italy has administered almost 13 million doses and fully vaccinated 3.9 million people — equal to around 6.5 per cent of a total population of some 60 million.

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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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