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As vaccines slip behind, Italy’s elderly are once again paying the bill.

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As vaccines slip behind, Italy's elderly are once again paying the bill.
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As vaccines slip behind, Italy's elderly are once again paying the bill.

As vaccines slip behind, Italy’s elderly are once again paying the bill.

 

Bergamo’s state-of-the-art Pope John XXIII Hospital was on the verge of collapsing a year ago as doctors tried to treat 600 patients, 100 of whom were in intensive care. In photographs now seared into the collective pandemic memory, army trucks ferried the dead from the city’s overburdened crematorium.

The situation has significantly improved: the hospital now treats less than 200 virus cases, with just around a fifth of them requiring intensive care.

However, as Italy’s death rate rises once more, the victims remain mostly elderly, with inoculation campaigns stalling throughout the country and across Europe.

“I was not able to protect the elderly, to make clear how necessary it would be to protect the elderly,” said Dr. Luca Lorini, the head of intensive care at the hospital named after the mid-twentieth-century Pope born in Bergamo. “If I have ten elderly people over the age of 80 who contract COVID, eight out of ten will die in their age group.”

According to him, this was accurate during the first terrifying surge and stayed “absolutely the same” in subsequent spikes.

Despite well-documented interruptions in vaccine stocks and bureaucratic shortfalls, promises to vaccinate all Italians over the age of 80 by the end of March have fallen woefully short. About a third of the 7.3 million doses given out in Italy so far have gone to people in that age group, with more than half of those with World War II memories still waiting for their first shot.

Lorini told The Associated Press, “We should have completed this by now.”

During a visit to Bergamo on Thursday, Italy’s new prime minister, Mario Draghi, promised that the vaccination program will be accelerated. His remarks came as he dedicated a park to the country’s more than 104,000 people who died as a result of the pandemic. Two-thirds of those who died as a result of the virus in Italy were over the age of 80 as of early March; the median age of those who died as a result of the pandemic in Italy is currently hovering around 80, after peaking at 85 last summer.

“We’ve come to remind our elderly that this will never happen again, that disabled people will be properly supported and protected. On the anniversary of the first army convoy bringing the virus dead from Bergamo, Draghi said, “Only in this way can we honor those who have left us.”

Looking to Britain, the first country in Europe to encourage widespread vaccinations, Italy can see its future. Since early December, more than 38 percent of the population in the United Kingdom has been immunized, beginning with those over the age of 70, health care personnel, and care home employees.

The percentage of fatalities among those over 75 has decreased from 75% of the total before the vaccine campaign to 64% in the week ending March 5. Britain, which leads Europe in virus deaths, has seen the percentage of fatalities among those over 75 decrease from 75% of the total before the vaccination campaign to 64% in the week ending March 5. Deaths in the United Kingdom have fallen from a high of 1,248 in the week ending Jan. 20 to an average of 128 per day in the most recent seven days, due in part to lockdown measures.

Spain, France, and Italy prioritized vaccinating residents of nursing homes, which were by far the most vulnerable category during the spring surge, alongside health care staff. They are responsible for nearly a third of the deaths in Italy’s first wave, as well as a third of the nearly 91,100 deaths in France as a result of the pandemic.

COVID-France is a non-profit organization based in France.

The number of illnesses and deaths in care homes has been slowly declining as the number of people who have been vaccinated has risen, with 85 percent having received at least one injection. Since February, the proportion of ICU patients aged 75 and older has begun to decrease, with almost half of this age group having been partially vaccinated. Despite a worsening of the outbreak in France, the situation for residents in care homes has improved.

Following the first phase of the vaccine campaign, Spain saw a substantial decrease in infections and complications in nursing homes, with a significant decrease in deaths.

Lower infection rates in nursing homes have been declared “an early achievement” in Italy, where vaccinations of nursing home residents began in January, relative to mid-February for other elderly.

Dr. Giovanni Rezza, director of infectious diseases at the Ministry of Health, recently admitted, “We cannot count it as a success, certainly not, of the vaccine strategy.”

Draghi said on Friday that Italy planned to administer 500,000 shots per day by the end of the month, up from the current daily rate of about 165,000.

With the fast-moving U.K. version pushing up Italy’s infection rate for the seventh week in a row, more than 2.5 million Italians over 80 are awaiting vaccinations. Worse, many still have no idea when they will receive them.

After his father died of COVID-19 on March 11, 2020, Luca Fusco formed a community to remember the dead and fight for justice in their honor.

His mother, who turned 83 on the anniversary of her husband’s death, has yet to obtain a vaccination appointment more than a month after sending a submission. Fusco said that was true for the majority of the elderly in their small town near Bergamo, adding that they had to drive 30 miles (20 kilometers) for each shot, which was a significant burden for many.

Italy’s target is to vaccinate 80% of the population by September, and Draghi has relaunched the campaign with an army general. “Noi Denunceremo,” (“We Will Denounce”), according to Fusco, will serve as a watchdog on the subject.

“Draghi confirmed that we would all be vaccinated by September. Fusco exclaimed, “Perfect.” “It’s something we’ve taken note of. If this is not the case, we will lift our voices… and seek answers from Draghi.”

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