Vaccine Rollout Hampered in Hard-Hit Northern Italy

People wearing face masks to curb the spread of Covid-19 sit at distance in a tram in downtown Rome on March 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

ROME (AFP) — The vaccine rollout in Italy’s hardest-hit region has been badly hampered by faulty booking systems, media reported Monday, with at least one injection center nearly empty at the weekend.

Infection rates remain stubbornly high in the northern region of Lombardy, and local officials said the vaccination program there had been badly delayed since the beginning of the rollout.  

It’s been “a disaster, since the start”, the mayor of the city of Crema, Stefania Bonaldi, told La Repubblica newspaper. 

“There is a bug in the system that needs fixing.”

A vaccination center in the provincial capital Cremona was nearly empty over the weekend after people were not informed of their vaccine appointments. 

Similar problems were reported in the Como and Brianza provinces. 

Local officials scrambled to inform locals by calling them after looking up phone numbers in the civil registry, and one mayor borrowed a minivan to pick up the elderly from their homes, La Repubblica reported. 

Lombardy’s president Attilio Fontana said he asked the board of Aria, the regionally owned company that manages vaccination bookings, to resign over the fiasco.

According to far-right leader Matteo Salvini, whose League party runs Lombardy as part of a conservative coalition, bookings will in future be entrusted to national post company Poste Italiane.

The change should happen by week’s end, he told reporters in Milan.

– Regional discrepancies –

Italy, where close to 105,000 people have died from the coronavirus, has reported vaccine delays across the country. But these have only partly been due to the supply shortage that has affected most of Europe. 

According to health ministry data, the country has administered 7.8 million doses and fully vaccinated just under 2.5 million people — around 4.1 percent of the total population of 60 million.

There have also been major discrepancies across the country in terms of vaccinating the elderly. 

The percentage of people over 80 who have been fully vaccinated ranges from 36.5 percent in South Tyrol to 2.6 percent in Sardinia, according to the GIMBE independent health think.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who took office last month promising to use “all means” to fight the pandemic, has pledged a massive scale up of vaccinations.

Speaking last week, he admitted that the regions “are all over the place (with vaccinations) and this is not good”.

The government has set a target to triple vaccinations to 500,000 per day by mid-April, and to fully vaccinate 80 percent of the population by mid-September.

© Agence France-Presse

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