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The Vo' Paradox: Home Of Italy's First COVID Death Is No-Vax Stronghold

This small Italian town is remembered well for being on the front line in the fight against COVID-19. Now it faces vaccine hesitancy.

Headstone of Adriano Trevisan in Vo's cemetery

Headstone of Adriano Trevisan, first victim of COVID in Italy

Francesco Moscatelli

VO' — Out of 101 municipalities in the province of Padua, it ranks 100th. This northeastern Italian town is the"weakest link," where the percentage of citizens "not vaccinated-not registered," or the No-Vax as health officials call them, is 18.7%, six points higher than the national average.

The other statistic about Vo' worth noting: as of last week, this town of 3,277 residents ranks the 18th highest number of cases in the Padua region, says Dr. Piero Realdon, coordinator of the Ulss 6 Euganea company. The paradox of the town is all in these numbers. Italians remember it well, with the small town on the front line in the fight against COVID-19 when Italy became the first country in the West hit by the pandemic in February 2020.

The small town lived through the shock of finding itself in a red zone, surrounded by the army — soon to be mourning the first Italian victim of the coronavirus, Adriano Trevisan, a 78-year-old retiree.

But eventually, Vo' became a place that had plummeted to the bottom in the ranking of localities that are following the guidelines of officials in affronting the new wave.

The collapse of a symbol, beyond the percentages. "They have come under fire of the enemy and yet," ponders Dr. Realdon. "A sociological analysis rather than a clinical one should be done. In fact, we might even need an anthropologist."

Quiet vaccine hesitancy

In front of the restaurant "Locanda al sole", where it all began, the era of mass testing and one of the scientific studies led by the microbiologist Andrea Crisanti seems far away.

“We are sick of all of this," said a passer-by.

At lunchtime, there was nobody in the restaurant. Above the table where Trevisan and Renato Turetta, who both died of COVID, used to play the briscola card game every day, is a photo, taken at this exact place, with the inscription “In memory of our briscola friends.”

A few dozen meters away is the pharmacy of Dr. Giuliano Martini, who also happens to be mayor of the city. "Anyway, we are more than 80% vaccinated," said a passer-by stopping for a coffee at the back of the store. “And fortunately, even though I did a lot of tests, only a few were positive: Monday and Tuesday none, Wednesday only one out of 75 tests. To try to improve things, we will also organize a “Vax day” in mid-December: it worked in a neighboring town."

City Hall of Vo' in Italy

Vo's City Hall

Google Street View

Turmoil in the medical community

The relatively low percentage of people vaccinated is not the only paradox of Vo'. There is another, which perhaps also explains the first one.

Health workers are the primary influencers, especially in small places, and have been particularly needed in recent weeks to encourage the most reluctant to get vaccinated.

In mid-November, one of Vo's three doctors left his position. He has long made no secret of his skepticism to government measures, writing on Facebook that "whoever decided to make green passes mandatory at weddings is brain dead.”

Even on vaccines, he jokes with heavy sarcasm on social media: “Since it is not experimental, they add new side effects to the vaccine insert package."

Domenico Crisarà, the medical association president of Padua, says about his colleague: "Nonsense, this is totally inappropriate,” noting that the doctor has been investigated for ethical violations and risks a suspension of up to five months.

Super Green Pass brings hope

The two remaining doctors, however, are working overtime. In his office on Viale Rimembranza, Dr. Luca Rossetto is preparing for another afternoon of booster shots. "Vaccines are a sensitive issue," he says. “Of course, one would expect that in a place marked by such experience, there would be an eagerness to take up vaccination, yet the opposite is happening."

I was able to convince 85% of my patients.

Rossetto says he's always believed in the vaccines. "I am happy that I was able to convince 85% of my patients. With this new wave of the Delta variant, I have already counted 25 people infected, and among them, there were 20 unvaccinated.” The doctor says he is counting on the positive effects of Italy's strict "Super Green Pass," which requires vaccination or regularly testing for nearly all activities in public.

When leaving the town, there is a traffic circle with an olive tree planted in memory of the victims of the pandemic, and a plaque with a quote from 18th century Italian revolutionary writer Ugo Foscolo: "A man never dies if there is someone to remember him."

Here the road to Vo' Vecchio begins, where the Trevisan family's construction company is located. Now, nearly two years after his father's death, Vladimiro, Adriano's son, doesn't feel like talking much. He limits himself to this remark: "Vaccination is the only way out of this situation. If my father had the chance to be vaccinated, he would have done so and he might still be here today.”

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Updated Dec. 4, 2023 at 12:00 p.m.

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