Flu in a time of COVID: Italian regions step up flu vaccine campaigns

Editorial Team

Editorial Team

November 11th, 2020

Editorial Team

‘Campaigners call for ‘at risk’ citizens to be prioritised and more transparency on flu vaccine supply’

Regional authorities in Italy are pulling out all the stops in a bid to boost access to vaccination. A nationwide survey, conducted by the Italian NGO Cittadinanzattiva (part of the Active Citizenship Network), reveals that regions are expanding clinic opening hours and delivering vaccines through mobile clinics to deliver flu vaccines.

In line with governments across Europe, Italy has significantly expanded its flu vaccine campaign and ordered additional vaccines. Some regions have doubled their orders.

However, despite increases in supply, there may not be enough vaccines in early winter to meet demand. Plans are already in place in some regions to extend flu vaccine campaigns into January 2021. 

In Sicily, clinics are opening earlier, closing later, and running extra sessions on Saturdays in the early weeks of the flu vaccine campaign. Patients discharged from hospital are offered the flu vaccine.

The Campania region is using mobile trucks to support GPs in administering flu vaccines to at-risk patients in their area. In Lazio, vaccines are being delivered in a wide range of venues ranging from mobile and drive-in clinics to schools and at sporting events. 

Other regions, including Marche, are using auditoriums as vaccination centres, while Emilia Romagna is using gyms and sports facilities as temporary clinics. GPs, paediatricians and pharmacies have been mobilised as part of a major effort to prevent flu outbreaks during the first winter of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hospital overcrowding

The Secretary General of Cittadinanzattiva, Antonio Gaudioso, said the survey shows the differences across Italy in managing a challenging flu season. ‘This is serious because this year, with COVID-19, we cannot afford crowding in hospitals due to influenza.’

The organisation says a significant part of the country will benefit from good planning and organisation for flu season 2020/2021. However, it notes that only 10 of the 20 regions contacted provided data in response to the survey.

Cittadinanzattiva called on all regions to guarantee access to flu vaccines for people over the age of 60 and those with underlying conditions. Greater transparency on vaccine supplies and uptake would support ‘solidarity’ between regions – including the sharing of vaccines with regions facing particularly shortages.

Once at-risk populations have been vaccinated, Cittadinanzattiva says other citizens should have access to vaccines through pharmacies and other channels. It also wants to see greater coordination between regions in purchasing vaccines and planning campaigns so that citizens across the country have equal access to flu vaccines in future.

Europe-wide response

Italy’s experience is in line with the picture emerging across Europe this winter. Governments began to order additional vaccines in spring and early summer as concerns grew about the risk of a ‘twindemic’ of flu and COVID-19. Shortages have been reported across the continent, prompting the WHO to advise that older people and healthcare workers be prioritised.

Several countries, including Portugal, Poland, Ireland and the UK, have expanded pharmacy-based vaccination in an effort to each at-risk patients. In Poland, nurses have also been given an enhanced role this year. 

Norway is allowing pharmacists to prescribe and administer flu vaccines nationwide for the first time. Risk groups will be prioritised until December. 

In Austria, the government has significantly increased the number of vaccine doses available and is broadening its recommendations to include the entire population of Vienna and children across the country. 

Overall, with significant pressure on health systems this winter, it is clear that governments are keen to use available vaccines to prevent illness. Perhaps next winter, vaccines against COVID-19 will offer further protection to at-risk patients – and to the health system. 

Read more:

Flu shortages: time to prioritise
Flu season: Why 2020 is different
Pharmacists to deliver flu vaccines in homes 
“Vaccination? Come back later…I can’t tell you when”