[WATCH] Malta has widest COVID vaccine reach in Europe, Chris Fearne says

Xtra on TVM | Health Minister Chris Fearne says more than 13,000 individuals will have received the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the week

Health Minister Chris Fearne
Health Minister Chris Fearne

Malta’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has so far inoculated around 3% of the population, making it among the frontrunners in Europe, Health Minister Chris Fearne said.

He insisted the vaccination programme, which started just after Christmas, was advancing as planned.

“Whereas other countries had vaccinated 1% of the population, Malta’s percentage stood at 2.7% and is one of the countries with the highest reach in Europe,” Fearne said on TVM’s Xtra on Thursday night.

He revealed that more than 13,000 individuals would have received the coronavirus vaccine by the end of the week.

Fearne said that an additional 13,000 Pfizer vaccines have been retained to be able to administer the second dose in 21 days’ time to people who have already been inoculated.

As Malta enters the third week of vaccination, Fearne said another shipment of 15,000 vaccines is expected on Monday and that deliveries would increase exponentially in the weeks ahead.

He said that apart from the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are currently available, Malta would also benefit from the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine as soon as the European Medicines Agency approves it. The European regulator has set 29 January for a special meeting during which the Oxford vaccine is likely to be given authorisation for distribution in the EU.

“By the end of this month, 70% of healthcare workers will have been vaccinated and by mid-February, every healthcare worker will have received the vaccine,” Fearne said.

He added that residents at St Vincent de Paul will also receive the vaccination by the end of this month, with other elderly care homes receiving it by the end of February.

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

“People in the community over the age of 85 will start receiving the vaccine and all of them will have received it by the end of this month,” the minister said.

Asked by show host Saviour Balzan when all the population would be inoculated, Fearne said that he was hopeful that the targets mapped out would be reached.

The targets announced so far have identified September as the month by when herd immunity would be reached and the end of the year for all the population to be inoculated. However, these targets only took into account the availability of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The timeframes could be brought forward when more vaccines become available.

Quizzed on vaccination certificates, Fearne said that Malta had discussed the probability of a vaccination certificate with the EU health commissioner in a bid to encourage travellers to visit Malta in the summer months.

Opposition health spokesperson Stephen Spiteri
Opposition health spokesperson Stephen Spiteri

Nationalist MP Stephen Spiteri called on the government to make use of the private health sector to help in the rollout of the inoculation programme.

Virologist Chris Barbara explained that the inoculation process for the Pfizer vaccine was not a straightforward one since it had an element of preparation. But the health authorities were prepared for the challenge, he insisted.

Barbara said that the COVID variants that have cropped up at this point were not an issue but hoped that they would not disrupt the efficacy of the vaccine going forward.

A UK COVID variant was found to be more infectious but not deadlier and the vaccines would still work against it. However, concerns have been raised over the past few days over the South African variant, which scientists fear could be on course to mutate into a vaccine resistant variant.