Italian authorities are investigating whether the mafia is redirecting some of the country's supply of coronavirus vaccine to friends as the prime minister lashed out at queue jumpers.
Government data shows Italy has administered a total of 12 million vaccinations to date, with 4.2 million to those aged 80 and above and only 1.26 million to those in their 70s.
Meanwhile, 3.1 million have gone to health workers, a million to educational professionals - and 2.4 million to a hazy category defined as 'others'.
The head of the national anti-mafia commission this week expressed concern over high rates of vaccinations in this 'other' group in southern regions that have long struggled against mafia infiltration within the healthcare system and other public areas.
Nicola Morra ordered four regions - the three southernmost regions of Sicily, Calabria and Campania, and Valle D'Aosta in the north - to turn over vaccination data and explain how they prioritised jabs.
'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 parliament's anti-mafia commission, told Politico.
The head of the national anti-mafia commission this week expressed concern over high rates of vaccinations in a category group in southern regions that have long struggled against mafia infiltration within the healthcare system and other public areas. Pictured: A health worker prepares a vaccine in Rome [File photo]
Concerns over mafia infiltration came as an expert warned that Italy's failure to target vaccinations at the most vulnerable has cost thousands of lives.
After being among the worst-hit countries by the pandemic last year, Italy began its vaccine campaign in late December, but failed to focus exclusively on the most at-risk groups - the elderly.
Had it stuck more rigidly to the 'ideal' plan of vaccinating older people, Italy would have suffered 8,000 fewer coronavirus deaths, according to expert Matteo Villa.
Villa, a researcher from the ISPI think-tank in Milan, said 33,000 people have died since early January. With more targeted jabs, 'it could have been 25,000,' he said.
'An unbalanced strategy, the delays of the regions and vaccine cheats have brought us here,' he said on Friday.
At a news conference late on Thursday, Prime Minister Mario Draghi (pictured) warned regional governments that they must improve vaccine efforts if they want to see current restrictive measures lifted, and attacked those taking jabs who were not in priority groups
At a news conference late on Thursday, Prime Minister Mario Draghi warned regional governments that they must improve vaccine efforts if they want to see current restrictive measures lifted, and attacked those taking jabs who were not in priority groups.
'With what conscience are there people who jump the waiting list trying to get vaccinated first, knowing that this is how you expose to risk those over 75 or with some vulnerability and therefore, a real risk of dying?' he asked.
Draghi took office in February with a promise to step up the vaccination campaign, saying it was the only way out for Italy after more than a year of the pandemic that has devastated the economy and claimed almost 113,000 lives.
But vaccination efforts have lagged behind, partly due to supply shortages, and partly due to regions going their own way and failing to prioritise the most vulnerable.
In Tuscany, university professors and lawyers, including those in their 30s, got vaccinated before most of the elderly, while in Lombardy, the hardest-hit region, a faulty booking system created havoc last month.