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ROME – Italian mafias divert vaccines from those who need them most, lawmakers fear.
With Italy struggling to run a shaky vaccination campaign, parliamentary anti-mafia commissions are investigating whether crime syndicates divert vaccines to their friends at the expense of the elderly and vulnerable, especially in the south where they often exercise control over health authorities. .
Italy’s rise in COVID-19 deaths, due to the dramatically slowing death rate in neighboring countries, has led some people, including Prime Minister Mario Draghi, to blame younger people for jumping queues for vaccinations.
At press time conference on Thursday evening, Draghi said: “With what conscience does one jump through the queue, knowing that it makes other people vulnerable, who are over 65 years of age or vulnerable, and who is at real risk of death?”
Institute of International Political Studies (ISPI) think tank estimates that 8,000 lives in Italy could have been saved since January if vaccines were more focused on the elderly.
But there is a growing concern that the masses are using their powers to get people vaccinated beforehand. The number of health workers – part of the first batch of vaccines – has increased suspiciously, especially in areas such as Puglia. Administrators, communications consultants, and even builders working on health sites have been given the shot once it has been added to the priority list.
And a loose interpretation of the Ministry of Health’s guidelines allows Italy’s 20 regions, which are responsible for health care, to allocate injections to well-connected individuals and groups such as politicians, lawyers, judges and journalists. Three south area – Sicily, Calabria and Campania – have given this priority dose as much or more as that given to people over 80 years of age.
At least 1,000 queue jumper suspects are being investigated by various police forces and prosecutors in Italy, including 150 people Palermo alone. Mayor of Corleone in Sicily resign after he was accused of abusing his position to get vaccines for himself and his board members.
This prompted the anti-mafia parliamentary commission to demand the names of those vaccinated. Mario Giarrusso, a member of the commission and a longtime anti-mafia campaigner, told POLITICO that it had compiled a list of names from several southern regions with suspicious numbers.
He said: “The people being vaccinated fall outside the priority category defined by the government, especially in some areas where there is a high mafia density, and we suspect that the mafia regulates vaccinations.”
In areas like Calabria, authority is often under the control of the central government because of mafia infiltration, said Giarrusso.
But even in areas where the mafia’s influence has been far less, vaccine rollouts have failed to prioritize older citizens, experts say.
Military members and prisoners have been given priority status, as well as more than 1 million school and university workers, although most teaching has been transferred to the internet.
According to Matteo Villa, a researcher at the ISPI think tank, the reason for a broader failure in government strategy is a lack of clear guidelines.
Like other countries, Italy prioritizes those over 80 years of age, care homeworkers and health care workers. But under pressure to become a leader in the vaccination race, Italy is giving health workers injections at a much faster rate than those over their 80s. “All health workers are vaccinated at the end of January. But it is done at the expense of the elderly,” said Villa.
At the end of January, seven in 10 vaccines were given to children under 60 years of age. And as of March 31, Italy is way behind the EU’s goal of 80 per cent of people over 80 having received at least one dose.
Even now, more children under 60 have been vaccinated than those over 80, according to officials numbers.
Draghi on Thursday complained that the number of health workers was growing and ordered focus be given to the elderly.
“We need to vaccinate as a priority for everyone over the age of 70,” he said.
Draghi has appointed Francesco Figliuolo, a military general and logistics expert, to get the vaccine back on track. But with Italy recording 718 coronavirus deaths on Friday, the biggest daily increase since December, it continues to count the cost of life.
Giarrusso, the anti-mafia senator, vows to root out the mafia. “We need to verify who has passed the queue. These people take the vaccine from those whose lives are at risk. “
This article is a part of POLITICOPremium policy service: Health Care Pro. From drug pricing, EMA, vaccines, pharmaceuticals and more, our specialist journalists continue to provide you with topics that drive the health care policy agenda. Email [email protected] for a free trial.