Italy begins vaccinating teachers with AstraZeneca despite row

Healthcare workers and teachers say they should have a more effective vaccine

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Italy has started vaccinating teachers and police officers under the age of 55 with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, despite a backlash from unions who would prefer those developed by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.

The Italian government is prioritising the Pfizer and Moderna shots for people over 80, while giving the AstraZeneca vaccine to those who are younger but work in high-risk jobs – such as teachers, prison staff and the police.

However, about 270,000 teachers may have to wait for a vaccine because they are considered too old for an AstraZeneca dose, la Repubblica reported.

Health workers say that they deserve a vaccine with the highest efficacy and one that works the fastest – a reference to the relatively long time it appears it takes for the AstraZeneca dose to take effect.

Last week, Italy said it would use the AstraZeneca vaccine only on those under the age of 55,  after claims that it was less effective at protecting the elderly.

The decision to move police officers and teachers up the vaccine priority list but not give them the products developed by Moderna or Pfizer angered some.

Italy's largest teaching union said some teachers were considering whether to take up the AstraZeneca vaccine offer, given its "claimed lower vaccination coverage, compared [with] the more effective Pfizer and Moderna vaccines".

Italian plastic surgeon Dr Paolo Mezzana said many private doctors were refusing to take the AstraZeneca shot.

“I’m not a no-vax AstraZeneca. But for an at-risk population, healthcare workers, they should use the same vaccination strategy for everyone and not create any discrimination,” he told the AP news agency.

But he also noted that the AstraZeneca vaccine was easier to store than some others.

The EU, which is charged with procuring vaccines and distributing them to member states, has been criticised for slow distribution that caused it to lag behind countries such as Israel, the UAE, the UK and US.

While in the UK about 23.3 people in every 100 have been given one dose, in Italy it is 4.96, while in the wider EU the figure is 4.88.

The scepticism about the AstraZeneca vaccine among some Italians is part of a wider trend in the EU.

French President Emmanuel Macron was criticised last month for saying the AstraZeneca dose was “quasi-ineffective” in over 65s.