ROME (Reuters) – The head of Italy’s southern Campania region said on Monday he would ignore a government order to give the elderly vaccination priority and would instead focus on workers in order to safeguard the local economy.
The central government has often clashed with the powerful presidents of Italy’s 20 regions over COVID-19 policy, with a blurred division of power hampering efforts to speed up vaccine rollout and protect the most vulnerable.
Italy has administered a first shot to 66% of those aged over 80, in line with the European Union average, but only 17% of those between 70 and 79, lagging its main partners, and has been reporting around 400 deaths a day in recent weeks.
On Friday the COVID-19 special commissioner Francesco Figliuolo ordered regions to give precedence to over-80s, over-70s and those with major health issues, and to prevent younger people jumping the queue.
The order followed an impassioned appeal from Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who told the regions to “stop vaccinating people under 60,” and said the inoculation rate of the elderly would become a criterion for lifting COVID restrictions.
Vincenzo De Luca, the president of Campania around Naples, Italy’s third most populous region, spoke to Figliuolo on Monday and then and immediately dismissed the order.
“Once the over-80s and the vulnerable are done we do not intend to proceed by age groups,” he told reporters, saying that the instructions would kill off the economy.
“Rigour is one thing, stupidity is another,” De Luca said.
Italy has seen around 114,000 deaths from COVID-19, the world’s seventh highest tally. Some 86% of the victims were over 70 and the failure to protect them has triggered strong criticism.
Figliuolo, an army general who was one of Draghi’s first appointments after taking office, told De Luca to reconsider, but did not propose any sanction if he refused.
“The vaccination campaign must continue in a uniform way at national level, with no exceptions to the principles governing it,” he said in a statement. (Reporting by Angelo Amante, editing by Gavin Jones)