The Italian anti-mafia commission is probing whether crime syndicates are intervening in the country's vaccine distribution.
Italian officials fear that some of the country's highly organised criminal syndicates have infiltrated the coronavirus vaccination campaign.
Several reports have emerged stating that elderly people in the country have had to pay high prices for Covid-19 vaccine doses. It's become a common complaint among older people that long waits and hefty sums have become de rigueur. The Italian parliament’s anti-mafia commission has responded to the crisis by opening an investigation into several mafia groups whom they suspect of having infiltrated the vaccine supply lines.
The south of the country is where the mafia generally exerts its influence over health workers and authorities.
Unlike many other European countries, the number of Covid-19 deaths is again on the rise in Italy as some people, including Prime Minister Mario Draghi, blame the younger generations for being in vaccination queues and causing delays for others.
“Stop vaccinating people who are under 60, stop vaccinating young people,” Draghi told a news conference on Thursday, raising his voice in an impassioned plea.
The country also suffers from a fragmented health system under which regions take most of their own decisions, and the central government has struggled to impose a clear strategy.
“With what conscience does someone jump the queue, knowing that he or she is exposing someone who is over 75 or frail to the risk of death,” Draghi said.
Italy has the second-highest coronavirus death toll in Europe and the seventh highest in the world. It is currently seeing around 400 deaths per day despite tough curbs on business and movement that have been in place for most of this year.
According to the Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), nearly 8,000 lives could have been saved since January if the elderly had been prioritised in getting their Covid-19 shots.
Together with ongoing debates over the inefficiency of the Italian health system, there are growing concerns about mafia members and their friends getting vaccinated ahead of time.
In Puglia, a southern region of Italy, the number of health care workers to be vaccinated has questionably increased.
The loose interpretation of Health Ministry guidelines paves the way for the country’s 20 regions to allocate and distribute Covid-19 shots for the benefit of well-connected individuals such as politicians, judges, lawyers and others.
Across Italy, there are at least 1,000 suspected queue-jumpers, 150 in Palermo alone, which have been investigated by the various enforcement and police agencies.
This situation has stirred anti-mafia commissions in parliament to reveal the names of those who have received vaccines.
“People are being vaccinated who are outside of any priority category specified by the government, particularly in some regions where there is high density of mafia, and we suspect that the mafia is managing the vaccinations,” Mario Giarrusso, a member of the commission, told POLITICO.
The mayor of Corleone in Sicily resigned after allegations he and another member of his team abused their power to push to the front of the queue.
More than 110,000 people have died of Covid-19 in Italy, the world’s seventh-highest tally. Their average age was 81, and 86 percent of them were 70 or over, data from the ISS national health institute shows.
Many countries, including Britain and the United States, vaccinated old people first, recognising their increased vulnerability.