Sunday 27 December 2020 19:12
Italy's care home workers reject Covid-19 vaccine
The majority of staff in Italy’s nursing homes could refuse to be vaccinated against Covid-19. In a survey of 1,000 staff in Piedmont, 70 per cent said they would not take the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
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An anti-vaccine protest in Italy.
The majority of staff in Italy’s nursing homes could refuse to be vaccinated against Covid-19. This is the disturbing conclusion of a recent study by the National Association of Care Homes (Anaste). In a survey of 1,000 of its employees in Piedmont, 70 per cent said they would not take the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Residential homes for the elderly have proved to be the weak link in the Italian health care system as far as Covid-19 is concerned. Public and private retirement homes have gained a reputation as places of danger rather than care, places where grandparents and parents die alone and perhaps unnecessarily.
reportpublished in September concluded:
“As in Italy nursing homes do not qualify as medical centers, they were heavily understaffed and unprepared to deal with the crisis, lacking protective equipment for staff and emergency care equipment for infected patients. In Lombardy, these inherent characteristics may have been particularly aggravating, as the regional authority decided to relocate COVID-19 positive patients with mild symptoms from hospitals to nursing homes.”
The report referred to the first wave of the pandemic. Yet nothing seems to have changed. Ten days ago, a nursing home near Pavia announced that 114 of its 130 patients had tested positive for Covid-19 and five had died in the previous few hours.
The anti-vax movement is strong in Italy. A
studyby Milan's Università Cattolica at the beginning of December found that 43 per cent of Italians were against or sceptical about the vaccine, even more than in May.
In the Piedmont survey of nursing home staff. "Half declared that they shared the position of the Anti-Vax movement,” Michele Assandri, president of Anaste Piemonte, told La Repubblica. “The rest say they don’t know enough about the side effects. They said that they may change their minds but only when they know more.”
Anaste's findings are backed up by another consortium which surveyed all of its employees. “Some homes are better than others and less than 50 per cent are against the vaccine, but there are others where eight out of ten don’t want to know. We have one home where 48 out of 50 employees told us that they are against it,” said Paolo Spolaore, deputy director of health for Confindustria Piedmont.
In Lazio, the situation seems almost worse. In some homes, only one in ten members of staff said they were willing to be vaccinated.
Vaccines are currently the only hope of a return to "normal" life. Why would so many of those working in a sector that has seen such a terrible death toll – and where they themselves face an above-average risk – be so reluctant to take advantage of them?
The director of a large home in Turin blamed staff turnover. “In the [initial] tragic period of the emergency, there was an incredible turnover in our facilities...The staff are constantly changing, with many of them recently entering the profession.”
Today, Omar Altobelli was the first man in Italy to be vaccinated. The social health worker had a message for the anti-vaxxers: “It’s important to get vaccinated. It’s been a tough year and I can’t even bring myself to speak about some of the things I’ve seen on the wards. I’m happy to be a 'guinea pig' if that’s what they think I am, but they’re wrong, the vaccine is ready.”