Italy’s vaccination strategy works. Despite the disruptions in the distribution of the vaccine worldwide, Italy continues to vaccinate rapidly.
Everyone in Italy knows primrose flowers at first sight that spring is on the way. In Italian culture, flowers carry great symbolism with primroses symbolizing rebirth. No wonder the Italian government adopted this promising symbol for its COVID-19 vaccination campaign by announcing it “L’Italia rinasce con fiore” – Italy is reborn with a flower.
While some make fun of the flower symbol, Italy’s vaccination campaign is no laughing matter. With an average of 100,000 doses administered per day in the past two weeks, the government drafted a plan to further increase this number if additional vaccine doses were available. Through the national COVID-19 vaccination strategy, the central government ensures that the whole country works together to vaccinate people as soon as possible.
Italy buys vaccines early: France was among the first countries to sign contracts for COVID-19 vaccines, along with Germany and the Netherlands.
The pace of vaccinating Italy’s people surpassed Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and some other European Union (EU) countries. As of March 11, 2021, Italy has administered more than six million doses of vaccine, and more than one and a half million people received both the first dose and the booster. Government estimates show that 7 million Italians will receive at least one dose in the first quarter of 2021.
Despite recent challenges – delays in vaccine shipments from Pfizer / BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Moderna, new age restrictions on the AstraZeneca vaccine by the Italian Medicines Agency and the resignation of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and a new Prime Minister, Mario Draghi – Italy’s vaccination infrastructure continues to act.
Italy has planned its vaccination campaign well in advance and has prepared a clear plan for cooperation between national and regional health institutions.
This partnership between national and regional health authorities is geared towards a unified and central response to the country’s vaccination strategy. The first priority for vaccination is healthcare professionals, residents and staff of care facilities, followed by persons over 80 years old. There will be extremely vulnerable people over the age of 16 alongside the vaccine, followed by adults between the ages of 70 and 79.
One strategy for success is ease of access to vaccines. Health workers were vaccinated in hospitals, and mobile vaccination centers served long-term care facilities. Other people have to register for the vaccine online or by phone through their regional health service authorities. The government has recruited GPs to help identify priority groups, and if mobility issues prevent someone from reaching the vaccination site, the government sends them mobile vaccination units.
Another factor in ensuring a smooth vaccination application is affordability. The vaccine is free. As of March 7, Italy has installed more than 1,600 vaccination units nationwide, and this number will increase rapidly. People can be vaccinated in healthcare facilities, as well as in large facilities that were originally used for collective events such as athletic arenas, music halls, and exhibition grounds. During the campaign, the government plans to seek assistance from local clinics and primary healthcare providers working in the military.
Society’s trust in vaccination
Italy has some of the highest levels in the EU when it comes to vaccine acceptance. More than 60 percent of the country’s residents say they will receive the vaccine compared to less than 50 percent in France.
Percentage of Adults Accepting the Vaccine in the EU
Percentage of adults who would accept a vaccine in the EU, according to responses to a Facebook survey, “yes”.
The Italian government has played an important role in promoting the adoption of vaccines even before the pandemic. This may have helped increase the adoption of COVID-19 vaccines. Following a measles outbreak in 2017, the government required all public school children to be vaccinated against 10 diseases and launched a public information campaign to combat vaccine hesitations.
As a result, measles vaccination rates among seven-year-olds increased by 4.4 percentage points between 2017 and 2018, but the older population traditionally is skeptical of vaccines, posing challenges. In the 2019/2020 season, only 55 percent of older adults chose to be vaccinated against the flu.
Religious leaders have played an important role in encouraging people to vaccinate. “[Vaccination] is an ethical choice because you play with health, with life, but also with the lives of others,” Pope Francis said in an interview with the Italian television channel TG5.
The positive message of the campaign may also be encouraging people to get vaccinated. According to the World Health Organization, using “positive, constructive and solution-oriented” messages is one of the best ways to persuade people to follow public health guidance. In times of crisis, people tend to focus on negative messages rather than positive ones.
City planner and architect Stefano Boeri, who pioneered the design of the primrose image, said in an interview that he wanted to avoid any image that could cause concern, such as a picture in which the COVID-19 virus is canceled by a barrier. Compare the primrose image with the slogan of Operation Warp Speed, the United States vaccine development program, which could inadvertently undermine vaccine adoption by fueling people’s fears about the speed at which the vaccine is developed.
If all these factors do not persuade a person to be vaccinated, Italy makes a claim that newly vaccinated healthcare workers will vaccinate them. Studies show that healthcare providers play an important role in making vaccine decisions. To turn healthcare professionals into vaccine ambassadors, the Italian government has developed a virtual training to increase healthcare professionals’ understanding of and confidence in vaccines.
It includes modules on education, communication and empathy to increase the persuasion power of healthcare professionals.
Towards the League of More Vaccines Available
The biggest obstacle for Italy is the difficulties in obtaining vaccines. Italy threatened to sue Pfizer and AstraZeneca for making less vaccines than expected. The government estimates that Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine and Curevac, a vaccine produced in Germany, will reach Italy in the second quarter of 2021 and Sanofi / GSK in the first quarter of 2022.
Meanwhile, Italy is contributing to its new development. The vaccines are vaccines, including a single-dose version, produced locally by a company called ReiThera, with promising results in Phase I trials. Findings from the Phase III trials will be announced later this summer.
While Italy competes to vaccinate its population as quickly as possible in the face of more contagious new variants, its centrally run campaign and thoughtful marketing and communications strategy are helping to spread faster than its European neighbors. Italy is also trying to gain greater control over vaccine supply in the future by investing in a locally produced vaccine.
While Italy’s vaccination campaign is in its early stages, other countries can learn a lot from the approach.
In times of a major health crisis, friendly communication with the public and a central government strategy can go a long way toward building trust and ensuring the well-being of the population.