ROME (AP) – Octogenarians in Tuscany watched with disbelief and outrage as lawyers, magistrates, teachers, and other younger professionals were vaccinated against COVID-19 before they did, despite government promises to prioritize citizens more old men from Italy. Even some of their adult children were ahead of them.
By one estimate, failure to vaccinate people over 80 and those in poor health has cost thousands of lives in a country with the oldest population in Europe and its second-highest loss of life in the pandemic.
As the elderly were elbowed out, a dozen prominent senior citizens in Tuscany published a letter calling on the authorities, including the governor of the region, for what they said was a violation of their rights to care. enshrined in the Italian Constitution.
“We asked ourselves, ‘What’s the reason for this disparity?’” Said signatory Enzo Cheli, a retired constitutional court judge who is one month younger than 87. As of the end of March, he had still not been vaccinated, three months after inoculation from Italy. Bell.
“The appeal was born out of this idea that mistakes, abuses were being made,” Cheli said in a telephone interview from his country home near Siena. He noted that investigations are underway in Tuscany and other regions where professionals received priority status.
Those over 80 in Tuscany have the lowest vaccination rate nationally.
Another signatory was the editorial cartoonist Emilio Giannelli, 85, who has not been vaccinated, while his son, a lawyer, has.
A Giannelli cartoon appeared on the cover of the Corriere della Sera depicting a young man in a business jacket kicking an old man leaning on a cane from a vaccine line.
In a country where many citizens have learned not to have often weak national governments, lobbyists wield enormous influence, sometimes derided as “castes.”
Prime Minister Mario Draghi has denounced such “contractual influence”, saying last month that the “basic line is the need to vaccinate the most fragile people and those over 80 years old.” His government insists that vaccinations proceed in descending order by age, with the only exceptions of school and university employees, security forces, prison staff and inmates, and those in communal residences such as convents.
According to a calculation by the ISPI think tank, opening vaccination lists to the youngest Italians cost 6,500 lives from mid-January to March, a period in which nearly 28,000 died.
ISPI researcher Matteo Villa said that any decision to vaccinate non-healthcare professionals facing risk of infection should have been limited to those over 50 years of age.
“If we give 100 vaccines to people over 90, we save 13 lives,” Villa said in a telephone interview, citing death rates. “But 100,000 vaccines are needed for people ages 20-29 to save a single life.”
The current average age of pandemic deaths in Italy is 81 years.
Throughout the pandemic, older Italians have accounted for the majority of deaths, and not just in Tuscany. Just before Draghi sounded the alarm on lobbyists, journalists in the small Molise region were ready to receive the first vaccinations. In Lombardy, priority was given to veterinarians. In Campania, the region that includes Naples, sellers of pharmaceutical companies obtained priority status.
Regional leaders blame vaccine delivery delays, claiming that the previous government’s launch of vaccines opened the door for lobbyists.
Some regions like Lazio, which includes Rome, resisted their pressure. By the end of March, nearly 64% of people 80 and older in Lazio had received at least one COVID-19 injection, compared to 40% in Tuscany.
Speaking about the most fragile in society, Lazio Governor Nicola Zingaretti told Corriere della Sera newspaper: “It is true that everyone is at risk of contracting COVID, but the difference is that they are among those who, if they do contract it, run more risk of dying than others “.
Of the 4.4 million residents of Italy aged 80 and over, less than 29% had been vaccinated and another 27% had received only the first dose at the end of March, said the GIMBE foundation, which monitors medical care in Italy. .
That compares with 95% of that age group in Malta who have received at least one dose, and 85% in Finland, according to Italy’s European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.
In Britain, where the launch of the vaccine started about a month earlier than in the EU, most people over 50 have received at least one dose.
GIMBE official Renata Gili linked much of Italy’s uneven performance to different organizational capacities, as well as “an excess of autonomy in the regions in choosing the priority categories to vaccinate.”
Some lobbyists don’t back down. The National Association of Magistrates, which represents the majority of Italy’s more than 9,600 magistrates, threatened to further slow the pace of a tortuous judicial system if they are not given priority. On Thursday, the tourism lobby demanded priority vaccines for its workers, calling them essential for the country’s recovery.
On Friday, a senior Health Ministry official, Giovanni Rezza, tried to interrupt any maneuver by priority.
“There was a fight between categories” to get the vaccine priority, Rezza said at a news conference when asked if supermarket employees could get special status. “We said: ‘Let’s finish off the teachers, the security forces, but let’s not have more categories.’ We will just use age criteria. “
The army general who was chosen last month by Draghi to shake up Italy’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign acknowledges his widespread problems.
“Is everything okay? No,” General Francesco Figliuolo told reporters in Milan on Wednesday.
It is unknown how many people in Italy received priority vaccines. Tuscany’s health commission office said that before Draghi disconnected special interest groups, 10,319 lawyers, magistrates, court clerks and staff had received a dose in the region.
Giving lawyers and others quick access to vaccines is “a problem, and everyone is pissed off about it,” said Nathan Levi, an antiquarian in Florence who turns 83 next month and is still waiting. “That is what Italy is about. The people who pushed ”come forward.
Of the 10.6 million doses administered so far in Italy, about 1.6 million were for people categorized as “other”, prompting some politicians to demand to know who they are. When asked, Figliuolo’s office admitted they have no idea and said they were lobbying the regions for specific details.
Italians in their 70s, who are largely out of the workforce, are still waiting for their vaccinations. By March 31, only 8% had received a first dose and less than 2% had received both.
Then there are people with frail health, who rank high on the government’s implementation chart.
“The situation of the ‘fragile’ is one of great uncertainty,” said Francesca Lorenzi, a 48-year-old lawyer in Milan with breast cancer. He noted that if cancer patients have finished therapy more than six months ago, they are no longer considered “fragile.”
“Meanwhile, they gave doses of Pfizer to people in their 60s who were in good health because they had university contracts. I do not understand why a university professor or a lawyer should be vaccinated before the others, “he said.
Colleen Barry reported from Milan. Pan Pylas in London contributed to this report.
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