The night vaccination campaign in Rome reaches the “most vulnerable”

ROME – For months Marta Pacholczak has worried about getting vaccinated.

Originally from Poland, she has lived in Rome for 25 years, but for many of them Ms Pacholczak is homeless. She is not registered with the Italian National Health Service and without an official residence or social security number, she did not have access to the country’s coronavirus vaccination campaign.

But over the weekend, she was among nearly 900 people who tried to take advantage of a nighttime vaccination campaign, called Open Night, organized by health authorities in the Lazio region, which includes Rome.

“I can’t do anything without a vaccine,” said Ms Pacholczak, 65, clutching her ticket – No.850 – while craning her neck to hear the numbers called on Sunday morning. “I cannot work or travel at this time.”

The initiative, organized in a cloister of the Santo Spirito hospital, near the Vatican, targeted “people on the margins of society, the most fragile,” said Angelo Tanese, director general of ASL Roma 1, on largest health center in the region. unit.

To help draw the crowds, a jazz pianist serenaded those in attendance on Saturday evening, while free espresso and cornetti – the Italian croissant – were offered on Sunday morning.

Doctors and nurses administered the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to homeless people, undocumented migrants, foreign students and foreigners who work legally in Rome but are not registered with the national health service.

the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires one dose – unlike the two-shot regimens made by AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech – is particularly useful for inoculating people who might be more difficult to reach or who might not come back for a second dose. About 80 percent of people at the Santo Spirito clinic were undocumented migrantsMr. Tanese said.

Santo Spirito, a 12th-century hospital and one of the oldest in Europe, has seen its fair share of plagues, epidemics and wars, Mr Tanese said. “This is the vocation of this hospital”, ushered in the 21st century, he noted.

Gianfranco Costanzo, director of health at the National Institute for Health, Migration and Poverty, estimates that at least 700,000 people in Italy are not registered with the national health service, which is run by regional governments .

“These are serious figures, especially in the event of a pandemic,” he said in a telephone interview. “But it is also a question of rights, because our health service ensures that everyone has the right to be vaccinated, regardless of their administrative status.

With the coronavirus variants pushing the number of cases around the world again, it is essential to vaccinate as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, Costanzo said. Several regions of Italy have started to make inroads, but others have fallen behind, he added.

Antonio Mumolo, President of Street lawyer, an association that helps homeless people, said: “Today there is the Covid, but yesterday there was tuberculosis.”

“Infectious diseases have always existed,” he added, “and if people are not treated,” public health is in danger.

The pandemic has highlighted the constraints of regional health services, said Dr Alessandro Verona, who works for INTERSOS, a charity that helps vulnerable members of society. “It has created administrative chaos for people who are outside the system,” he said, especially for those who have moved between regions, such as foreign agricultural workers. “The world has changed, people are on the move and the marginalized must be seen as people to be protected. “

“We need to move from the concept of a hard-to-reach population to an easy-to-reach national health system,” Dr Verona added.

ASL Roma 1, which organized the vaccination campaign at Santo Spirito Hospital, is also working with volunteer aid organizations to increase vaccination rates among marginalized groups. They visit Roma settlements and occupied buildings, and offer injections to the homeless via a motorhome that crisscrosses Rome, Mr Tanese said. Two centers for the homeless will open this week.

Dr Paolo Parente, responsible for innovative models of primary health care for ASL Roma 1, said: “We have felt the responsibility that part of the community has not been vaccinated”, adding: “Now that the national vaccination campaign is underway. , it’s time to start with the most vulnerable.

As of Sunday, nearly 20 million people in Italy had been fully vaccinated – about 32 percent of the total population.

It was a varied crowd in Santo Spirito: there was a Peruvian employee of a United Nations agency in Rome who had arrived in the city only three weeks ago; a Chinese couple pierced by their cell phones; two Kazakhs in their twenties and studying in Cassino, about 90 miles south of Rome, who were unsure of the Sputnik vaccine delivered to them; a Rwandan woman studying business at one of Rome’s leading universities; and a Brazilian caregiver who feared she might not be vaccinated even though the person she was caring for was.

Wearing a pink rubber bracelet that reads #IAmVaccinated, Rose Marie Magada, a nun from the Philippines who moved to Italy in January, said she was thrilled to receive the vaccine after months of uncertainty. “It’s good to be protected,” she said.

Laura Morettoni, a nurse in Santo Spirito who had worked all night, said she was tired but happy to have been part of the initiative. “I think the homeless and the marginalized felt welcome and taken care of,” she said.

The open house was made public through the health unit’s social media accounts, but many attendees said they heard about it through volunteer or acquaintance associations, such as Ms Pacholczak, who found accommodation with a generous friend.

Ultimately, Ms. Pacholczak was not vaccinated. She has a heart problem, so the medical staff at Santo Spirito decided that a different vaccine would be better for her and put her on a waiting list.

Mr Tanese, who had been up for more than 24 hours, said his unit would almost certainly repeat the vaccination initiative.

“Except at night,” he laughed. “It’s a bit tiring.

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