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Italy offers free virus vaccines, starting with doctors
Doctors from MEDU organization (Doctors for Human Rights) roam across the Tiburtina train station on November 25, 2020 in Rome, as part of a MEDU mobile team series of free health checks.
AFP/Tiziana FABI

Italy offers free virus vaccines, starting with doctors

Ella Ide (Agence France-Presse) - December 2, 2020 - 8:41pm

ROME, Italy — Italy will give all its citizens free vaccinations against coronavirus starting with doctors and care home residents once the jabs are approved, its health minister said Wednesday.

The immunisation drive is expected to begin in the spring. Italy will get its vaccines via an EU procurement programme and is waiting for the European Medicines Agency's green light, Roberto Speranza said.

Britain on Wednesday became the first western country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine for general use, announcing the rollout of a vaccine developed by Germany's BioNTech and its US partner Pfizer from next week.

Meanwhile Europe's medicines regulator has said it will decide by December 29 whether to grant emergency approval to Pfizer-BioNTech's jab, ahead of a rival treatment from Moderna.

The latest timeline suggests Europeans would be lucky to receive the first jabs before the year is over.

Nonetheless, Speranza said: "We can finally see light at the end of the tunnel."

"The vaccine will be distributed to all Italians for free. It will not be obligatory at first. The government will be monitoring how the campaign progresses," he added.

Italy, the first European country to be hit hard by the pandemic early this year, has been battling a new surge in infections in recent months that has taken the total death toll past 56,000.

Shops, restaurants and bars in the worst-affected regions have been shut and a nationwide curfew was imposed, measures that Speranza said had brought infection rates down.

But he said Italians should prepare for restrictions to continue over the Christmas holidays.

"I warn you now: do not mistake the first ray of sunlight for an escape from danger," he said, adding: "If we let down our guard now, the third wave is just around the corner."

Speranza did not give concrete details of new measures that are due to come into force when the previous restrictions expire this week.

'Discouraged'

But he said international travel over the festive season "should be discouraged" and travel between regions would likely be banned — a blow to those hoping to join their relatives in other parts of the country.

All movement between towns is expected to be forbidden on Christmas Day and December 26. 

The Italian government is also joining Germany's push for a ban on ski holidays across Europe over Christmas, amid fears resorts could become a major source of coronavirus infections. But it faces opposition from regional leaders, while Austria has said it would be economically disastrous.

"It will be necessary to avoid potential gatherings in places of tourist attraction linked in particular to skiing activities," Speranza said.

The health minister said Italy has signed contracts for vaccines from AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi, Pfizer, CureVac and Moderna.

Once approval comes, doctors and health care workers will get the first doses — some 1.4 million people — followed by residents in care homes — just over 570,000 people.

Those aged over 80 will be next in line, followed by those aged between 60 and 79 years old and those suffering from at least one chronic disease.

Vaccines will then be distributed to key workers — teachers, police, prison wardens — before being offered to the general population at walk-in centres.

Speranza urged all lawmakers in Italy, where campaigners against vaccination are very vocal, to get behind the immunisation push.

"There's no government majority or opposition on this, there are simply Italians," he said.

COVID-19 VACCINE ITALY NOVEL CORONAVIRUS
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: April 16, 2021 - 5:21pm

Pharma giants Sanofi and GSK said on July 29, 2020, that they have agreed to supply Britain with up to 60 million doses of a potential COVID-19 vaccine. The agreement covers a vaccine candidate developed by France's Sanofi in partnership with the UK's GSK and is subject to a "final contract."

This thread collects some of the major developments in the search for a vaccine to ease the new coronavirus pandemic. (Main photo by AFP/Joel Saget)

April 16, 2021 - 5:21pm

The European Union is very unlikely to renew its COVID-19 vaccine contracts with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, a French minister says.

Denmark this week banned the use of AstraZeneca jabs over blood clot concerns, just as the EU said it was expecting 50 million Pfizer vaccine doses earlier than expected.

No final EU decision had been taken, French Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher tells RMC radio, but "it is highly probable" that no further AstraZeneca doses would be ordered. — AFP

April 16, 2021 - 1:03pm

The head of Pfizer says in an interview that  people will "likely" need a third dose of his company's COVID-19 shot within six to 12 months of vaccination, while elsewhere defending the relatively higher cost of the jab.

CEO Albert Bourla also says annual vaccinations against the coronavirus may well be required.

"We need to see what would be the sequence, and for how often we need to do that, that remains to be seen," Bourla tells CNBC in an interview. — AFP

April 15, 2021 - 8:36am

A pause on all US vaccinations with the Johnson & Johnson Covid shot will continue for at least another week after members of a government-convened expert panel said Wednesday they needed more time to assess its possible links to a clotting disorder.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) convened a meeting a day after authorities reported six cases of women developing brain clots along with low blood platelet counts, including one death, within two weeks of people getting the one-dose Covid-19 vaccine. 

The shot has been given to some 7.2 million Americans, and participants at the meeting were told on Wednesday a seventh case involving a 28-year-old woman has been identified. —  AFP

April 14, 2021 - 6:46pm

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday he has received the second dose of a vaccine against the coronavirus and said he hopes Russians follow his example.

"I want to inform you that right now, before entering this room, I also received the second vaccination," he said at a televised meeting. "I assume that you, taking care of yourself and your loved ones, will do the same and follow my example." — AFP

April 13, 2021 - 2:51pm

A leading local drugmaker says India has authorized the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine in a boost for the nation's inoculation drive as infection rates soar to record highs.

Russia's Sputnik V is the third vaccine to be approved by India after the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and Covaxin, which was developed by Indian firm Bharat Biotech.

"We are very pleased to obtain the emergency use authorisation for Sputnik V in India," says G.V. Prasad, co-chair of pharmaceutical company Dr Reddy's Laboratories, in a statement. — AFP

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