EXPLAINED: Who can access a third dose of the Covid vaccine in Italy?

EXPLAINED: Who can access a third dose of the Covid vaccine in Italy?
Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP
Italy approved third dose Covid-19 booster shots for all over-60s on Friday, having previously offered them only to the most vulnerable members of society and health and care home workers. Who’s eligible, and what do you need to know about accessing a booster?

Italy will start administering Covid-19 third dose booster shots to anyone aged 60 and up after the Health Ministry released a circular on Friday approving its use for anyone in the age category.

The country began its rollout of third Covid-19 vaccine doses for the most at-risk members of the population on September 20th, and added health and and social care workers and the over-80s one week later.

READ ALSO: Almost all hospitalised Covid-19 patients in Italy are unvaccinated, says health watchdog

“The third dose is an important piece of the strategy we have put in place,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza reportedly said on the late-night talk show Che tempo che fa.

“We’ll start immediately, we already have almost 300 thousand third doses administered”.

Here’s what we know about the booster rollout.

Who can get the vaccine?

The third dose is now available to anyone aged 60 over, as well as “the vulnerable of all ages”, according to the ministry’s latest press release.

No more detail is currently offered about who falls into the latter category, but if you think you might be eligible, it’s worth checking in with your doctor to see whether you qualify.

The doses were initially offered only to those with suppressed immune systems, including AIDs patients and those on dialysis for renal failure, as well as cancer patients and transplant recipients; but were quickly extended to care home workers, the over 80s, and the health professionals by the end of September.

READ ALSO: Italy’s vaccination campaign slows as ‘green pass effect’ fails to materialise

How do you get the vaccine?

The process will vary depending on where you live. Many immunocompromised Italians who fall into the health ministry’s ten categories will be called in by their local health authority (ASL) or the hospital treating them, while others will be summoned by the family doctor, reports the news outlet Il Sole 24 Ore. 

Individuals with mobility issues who have trouble leaving the house can be vaccinated at home.

Others, including over-60s, will likely need to take the initiative to call a vaccination centre or pharmacy and book the shot for themselves. Those under the age of 60 who consider themselves in the ‘vulnerable’ category will need to attest to their health condition via a self-certification form and bring their green pass or vaccination certificate with them.

As with the rest of Italy’s immunisation campaign, the third dose rollout is being managed by regional authorities – so while the whole country was given the go-ahead to start administering the shots from Monday, different regions will be running the effort at their own pace.

How soon after your second dose can you get the vaccine?

For immunosuppressed people, the third vaccine can be administered 28 days after the second dose – and should be given as soon as possible after that point, according to the health ministry’s latest guidance.

Boosters for all other categories, meanwhile, should be administered at least six months after the second shot.

Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

Which vaccines will be used?

Only the two mRNA vaccines currently approved for use in the EU – that’s the Pfizer Comirnaty vaccine and the Moderna Spikevax vaccine – will be used for the booster, according to the health ministry.

Both vaccines are now approved by the European Medicines Agency for anyone aged 12 and up, and are effective regardless of which vaccine you received for your initial cycle.

Do I have to get a third dose if I fall into one of the categories?

No. It’s highly recommended by the health ministry to ensure maximum protection, but is not compulsory.

How effective is the booster?

A recent study conducted by the Israeli healthcare provider Maccabi reportedly showed that a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine is 86 percent effective in preventing infections in over-60s.

Will the entire population be offered a third dose?

While infectious disease experts in Italy agree that booster shots are necessary for higher-risk groups, some say they remain unsure if a third dose will be necessary for the entire population.

Speaking on Che tempo che fa, Speranza said the government would need to review the data in order to decide whether a third dose is necessary for under-60s.

“I think it’s possible, but we’ll see,” he told viewers.

“I am in favour of a third dose, starting with the immunosuppressed and then, 9-12 months after the end of the vaccination cycle with two doses, also for the rest of the population”, Massimo Andreoni, head of Infectious Disease at the Tor Vergata Polyclinic, told Ansa in mid-September.

Other health experts, however, say that a third dose doesn’t appear to be immediately necessary for those outside the most vulnerable categories, and argue that offering first doses to populations that remain largely unvaccinated should be the priority of western governments.

What are other countries doing?

The first countries to begin offering third doses of a Covid vaccine included Israel and the United States, while the UK began administering third doses at the end of September.

In Europe, countries including France and Austria began offering booster shots in late August. Many other EU countries say they’re still awaiting further data before they make a decision.

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