Italy's Lombardy region dismisses vaccine execs after campaign failures

ROME (Reuters) - Lombardy’s regional governor on Monday dismissed the board of a company in charge of coronavirus vaccination bookings, after a series of rollout delays and IT failures in the Italian region worst-hit by the pandemic.

FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a protective face mask walks past a closed shop as the region of Lombardy becomes a 'red zone', going into lockdown as the country struggles to reduce the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections, in Milan, Italy, March 15, 2021. REUTERS/Flavio Lo Scalzo/File Photo

Lombardy, the country’s wealthiest and most populous area which includes the financial capital Milan, has repeatedly come under fire for its handling of the COVID-19 emergency and was at the epicentre of the first European outbreak in February 2020.

Thousands of residents did not show up for vaccination over the weekend because a digital platform operated by Aria, a company owned by the regional government, failed to send them details of their bookings.

“I have asked the board of Aria to step down. If they refuse to do so I will fire them,” said Lombardy president Attilio Fontana, who is also a member of Matteo Salvini’s right-wing League.

Lombardy accounts for almost a fifth of Italy’s 3.37 million cases and suffered almost 30,000 fatalities out of a national total of 105,000.

Only 1.2 million people, or some 10%, of its 10-million strong population has been inoculated. The region has so far administered just over 78% of the available doses, one of the lowest percentages of the country, government data shows.

“Such disruptions have caused problems to many citizens and have affected the work of the health operators,” Fontana added.

The move comes after the regional deputy governor, Letizia Moratti, who is close to Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, accused Aria of being “inadequate” and “unable to manage reservations in a decent way”, ramping up pressure on Fontana to overhaul its management.

Italy’s vaccination campaign as a whole has been hampered by delays in vaccine supplies and was further slowed last week by a three-day suspension in the use of AstraZeneca shots over concerns about possible blood clotting as side-effects.

Some 1 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be distributed among Italy’s 20 regions within the next 24 hours, the office of the COVID-19 special commissioner said on Monday. Being the most populated, Lombardy is expected to receive the largest share.

The inefficiencies reported in Lombardy over the weekend have forced health operators to personally call people booked for slots. Left-over vaccines were administered to anyone available.

“On Saturday I was told there were unused vaccines,” said Giuseppe Papa, the mayor of the small Lombardy town of San Bassano. “I personally drove a bus with 20 elderly people to get them vaccinated. They had no bookings and the oldest was 97 years old.”

Reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Nick Macfie and Jan Harvey