COVID vaccine rollout reaches 300 elderly residents in care homes so far

Faster COVID-19 vaccine rollout in care homes hampered by supply issues and the fact that Pfizer vaccine has to be constituted on site just before it is administered • PN calls for more transparency

Some 300 elderly residents in care homes have so far been inoculated against COVID-19
Some 300 elderly residents in care homes have so far been inoculated against COVID-19

There were 260 elderly residents in care homes who received the COVID-19 vaccine between the 7 and 12 January, information obtained by MaltaToday shows.

The inoculation process in homes for the elderly started last week but to date vaccinations have only started in five of the 37 facilities across the island.

There are around 4,500 elderly people living in care homes.

Data obtained from the Ministry for the Elderly shows that until Tuesday, 260 care home residents were inoculated with the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. This constitutes around 6% of elderly people in care homes.

The five residential homes where the inoculation process has started are a mix of government, private and church homes, the ministry said.

Additionally, only 38 carers in these homes received the coronavirus vaccine.

“Priority is being given to older persons and up until Tuesday, 38 carers have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine,” a ministry spokesperson said.

These figures exclude the vaccinations being administered at St Vincent de Paul home, which is the largest government care facility. Since the New Year, around 70 residents and carers at SVPR are being vaccinated every day.

Vaccine invitations to people aged 85 and over living in the community started being delivered this week as the inoculation process entered its next phase. Frontliners in the medical field were the first to start receiving the vaccine last December.

But it seems that a faster rollout of the vaccine is hampered by supply issues and the cumbersome nature of the Pfizer vaccine, which is currently available.

“Apart from having to be stored at super cold temperatures, the Pfizer vaccine has to be mixed with a diluent before being administered and this cannot happen in a central place but on site where it will be given, in line with the manufacturer’s recommendations for maximum effectiveness,” a source close to the vaccination programme told MaltaToday.

This in itself was a limiting factor, which the authorities hope will change once the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine starts reaching Malta.

The Oxford vaccine is scheduled to receive approval from the European Medicines Agency on 29 January and if this is given, it could be available for distribution in the first weeks of February.

“The Oxford vaccine will be the game-changer because it is easier to administer and does not require super cold temperatures but again it also depends on the delivery of the vaccine,” the source said.

Malta, in line with other EU countries, has adopted an inoculation strategy that immediately reserves the second dose of the vaccine for the person.

Full vaccine effectiveness is reached after a second dose is taken some three to four weeks later. Once a person takes the first dose, the second dose is automatically reserved, which means that a batch of 5,000 vaccines will only inoculate 2,500 people.

PN calls for more vaccine transparency

Meanwhile, the Nationalist Party has called for more transparency on the vaccine rollout.

“It is unclear if the vaccination programme is being coordinated by Mater Dei Hospital, the Health Department or the Health Ministry. There is also a lack of transparency on the number of vaccines that have arrived in Malta, how much have been administered and to whom, and on what criteria,” the PN COVID action team said in a statement on Thursday.

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