ROME, Dec. 2 (Xinhua) -- Italy's national COVID-19 vaccination campaign will see the first tranche of 202 million doses to be distributed to some 40 million people in the first quarter of 2021, Health Minister Roberto Speranza stated on Wednesday.
Unveiling the plan before the parliament, Speranza explained that the vaccine would be free and voluntary.
"Our goal is to start with no obligation, but (instead) with persuasion and information in order to reach the herd immunity with about 40 million Italians," he told lawmakers.
According to the minister, the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be delivered to Italy between Jan. 23 and Jan. 26, and "will be stored in 300 points within public hospitals."
The campaign will start with health care workers and staff, and residents in nursing homes, before moving to vulnerable groups such as the elders -- first the over-80s and then those between 60 and 80 years. The next group will be workers employed in essential sectors, including schools.
The Italian army will be directly involved in the distribution of the vaccine. "This is especially true for those (vaccine doses) requiring a standard cold chain," Speranza said, adding that the army is now planning carriers, modalities and logistics with Domenico Arcuri, the special commissioner for coronavirus emergency.
The campaign will be managed at a central level in the first phase, with a task force identifying all the specific hospitals and facilities where the vaccine will be administered across the country. Mobile health units will be deployed in order to reach the people who are physically impeded to reach the vaccination points.
If necessary, the vaccination procedures might take place in large spaces such as fair centers or public gyms.
In his address to the parliament, Speranza stressed that a priority for the country was to "avoid having the vaccination campaign coincide with a possible third wave of the pandemic," and this was one reason why it was strategic to bend the epidemiological curve now.
"We cannot afford to get there (at the beginning of the vaccine campaign) with our health districts and health staff still overloaded with coronavirus cases," he said.
As of Dec. 1, Italy has registered 1,620,901 coronavirus cases, including 779,945 active infections, 784,595 recoveries, and 56,361 fatalities, according to official statistics.
Since this Monday, and for the first time since the second half of October, active infections have shown daily drops, while the contagion rate across the country has also gradually decreased in the last two weeks.
These signals would suggest the latest round of restrictions put in place since early November to slow down the second pandemic wave were having results, the National Health Institute noted.
A race to find a COVID-19 vaccine is underway in several countries around the world, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, China, the United States and Russia.