A single dose of the COVID vaccine will be all that is administered to those who have had the disease between three and six months previously, Italy has announced.
In a move that follows both France and Spain, Italian officials are thought to have introduced the one-shot policy in an attempt to not run out of jabs amid the stuttering EU rollout.
Two doses of the vaccines in use are usually recommended.
The new recommendation applies to both people who have fallen ill with coronavirus and those who were diagnosed but had no symptoms.
However, the Italian health ministry’s director of prevention, Giovanni Rezza, cautioned that the measure could be reversed if any of the new variants are found to risk reinfection.
Italy is now the third EU country after France and Spain to follow this path at a time when EU nations are struggling to boost their vaccination campaigns due to supply cuts imposed by drugmakers.
Italy, which has a population of around 60 million, had administered 4.76 million doses of vaccines as of Thursday, with some 1.5 million people receiving the recommended two shots.
In all, it has received 6.3 million doses from manufacturers, but repeated supply delays have hampered efforts to give people the second jab.
The country is now seeing around 15,000 new cases per day, putting the health system under strain.
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In an attempt to remedy the ongoing vaccine issues in the EU, Italy’s new prime minister Mario Draghi has replaced both the special COVID commissioner and the head of the civil protection agency.
Draghi also suggested at a meeting of EU leaders last week that first shots should be given priority.
At present many EU countries, including Italy, are following drugmaker recommendations to give people two separate vaccinations and are holding back doses as a result.
However, EU drug regulator the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said on Wednesday it had not yet seen enough evidence to recommend changes to the dosage regime for COVID vaccines.
The new government in Italy has said it intends to speed up the vaccinations a top priority, with a target to deliver a 56 million doses by June.
On Tuesday, German leaders urged doctors to use the full length of the approved interval between first and second vaccinations and to minimise stockpiling of booster shots to get more people started on the two-shot course.
The EMA recommends giving Pfizer-BioNTech's injections three weeks apart and AstraZeneca's up to 12 weeks apart.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires just one dose for full protection, has not yet been approved for use in the EU.
COVID in Europe
While COVID cases and deaths in the UK are continuing to fall, the opposite is happening in Europe, with cases rising by 9% in the past week.
Dr Hans Kluge, regional director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Europe, warned that the continent “should not be in this situation” and urged countries to “go back to basics”.
He said: “This brought a promising six-week decline in new cases to an end, with more than half of our region seeing increasing numbers of new infections.
“We are seeing a resurgence in central and eastern Europe. New cases are also on the rise in several western European countries where rates were already high.”
Kluge called for an accelerated rollout of vaccines after figures showed that most European countries are lagging behind when measured in terms of doses administered per 100 people.
It is a somewhat different picture in the UK, where 21,599,027 jabs have been given so far, with 20,703,615 being first doses.
The government decided to follow a strategy of delaying the second dose of vaccines to ensure as many people could be given some degree of protection against COVID as possible.
The encouraging data has led Boris Johnson to lay out a path to exit lockdown, with 21 June earmarked as the date for when all restrictions are lifted.
However, lockdown has been extended for another three weeks in Germany, where just 5.3% of the population has been vaccinated.
Announcing the extension on Wednesday, German chancellor Angela Merkel said: “These should be steps toward opening but at the same time steps that do not set us back.”
Meanwhile, France, where a 6pm to 6am curfew is already in place, could see further lockdown restrictions – including strict weekend restrictions confining people to their homes.
Additional reporting by James Morris.
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