By Emilio Parodi
MILAN (Reuters) - If vaccine supplies are confirmed, seven million Italians could be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of March, the government's special commissioner Domenico Arcuri said on Friday.
Arcuri said the first 249,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will arrive in Italy on Saturday and will be administered from next week, to people up to the age of 55.
Pfizer and Moderna doses will be administered in parallel, to those over 80 and most exposed to risks, such as health workers.
"Meanwhile, the number of Italians that are fully vaccinated will top 1 million today," he said during a weekly press event.
Israel is currently far ahead of the rest of the world on vaccinations per head of population, followed by the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Bahrain, the United States and then Spain, Italy and Germany.
Britain on Thursday launched a trial to assess the immuneresponses generated if doses of the vaccines from Pfizer andAstraZeneca are combined in a two-shot schedule. Initial data onimmune responses is expected around June.
Arcuri said Italy was the first European country in terms of the number of people who have received both the first and second dose of vaccines, ahead of Germany.
"We have about one million people who have received both the first and second dose, ahead of Germany with 756,000," he told the news conference.
Asked about recent production disruptions and supply cuts, the commissioner said he was waiting for the EU and the vaccine manufacturers to agree over the proposal to transfer part of their production to local sites to increase capacity.
"We believe Italy has the facilities and the characteristics to contribute to an increase in production," he added.
Italy was among a number of European countries that filed a petition with the EU Commission proposing that pharmaceutical companies also produce vaccines locally.
Italy has been one of the hardest-hit countries since the epidemic emerged a year ago.
The virus has killed 90,241 Italians so far and infected 2.597 million, health ministry data show.
Arcuri added that the average daily number of doses administered had returned to 83,000 per day after falling by more than half in the last two weeks of January.
On the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is recommended for use in people up to 55 years old, he said he was confident that "further trials may allow it to be used within a wider share of the population."
(Writing by Maria Pia Quaglia; editing by Agnieszka Flak and Nick Zieminski)