The European Medicines Agency has recommended approval for the Pfizer/BionTech vaccine in the EU, Health Minister Chris Fearne has announced.
The European Commission is expected to approve the vaccine for use in EU countries in the coming hours, he said.
Malta will be among the first countries to start giving out the vaccine, describing the step as a “great achievement.”
“Our economy and our social life will start going back to normal together with other countries.”
The first batch of 10,000 Pfizer vaccine doses is expected to arrive in Malta on Saturday. More batches will be arriving on Monday of every following week until all 500,000 doses from the company are imported.
Approval of vaccines produced by another two companies is expected in the coming days and these doses will be arriving in the beginning of next year.
A nurse who works at Mater Dei’s Infectious Diseases Unit will be the first Maltese person to be vaccinated, on Sunday morning.
Staff from the ITU, the IDU, the Emergency Department and others working with Covid-19 patients will also be vaccinated on Sunday. Eventually, all hospital workers will be administered the vaccine. Vaccination of primary healthcare workers and swabbing centre staff will start on Monday.
The process at the Gozo General Hospital will start on Tuesday. Staff at Mount Carmel Hospital Boffa, St Thomas Hospital and the Good Samaritan Facility will be vaccinated next.
St Vincent de Paul residents and staff will be given the vaccine between 1 and 6 January. Private healthcare workers will receive the vaccine next.
People over the age of 85 will start receiving their inoculation letters from 7 January. They will be given the date and time for their first and second shots.
A helpline – 145 – has been launched to help anyone with queries on the vaccine process.
People will also be sent a letter explaining the importance of taking the vaccine, which will be given for free and is not mandatory.
The vaccine will bring a big change to our lives, Fearne said.
Referring to the suspension of UK flights, Fearne said the new Covid-19 found in the country is not necessarily more harmful but can spread faster. The approved vaccine, he said, is effective on this strain too.
He appealed to the public to be responsible and continue observing health guidelines. Responsibility will ensure that our hospitals do not become overwhelmed.
“This is the beginning of the road back to normality,” he said, but until we reach that stage, we must still exercise caution.
Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci reiterated the appeal, urging everyone to take the vaccine. All vaccines can have mild side-effects, she said, but this should not discourage people. Side-effects may include some pain, fever or lethargy, but these should not keep us from getting vaccinated. Not everyone will experience these side-effects.
There are so far not enough clinical trials on under-16s, so the vaccine is so far being recommended for people over that age, she explained. The same applies for pregnant women.
Only people suffering from extreme allergic reactions to other vaccines or injectables should refrain from taking the Covid-19 vaccine for now, she said.
Professor Michael Borg, Head of the Infectious Diseases Unit, said the vaccine is a “phenomenal leap” in technological terms, explaning that this vaccine does not contain any dose of the actual virus, unlike conventional vaccines. The optimal level of antibodies is reached with the second dose – the booster – which is administered 21 days after the first shot.
Taking questions, Fearne said this was not the first time that Malta stopped flights from certain destinations. People returning from the UK will have a PCR test administered. This type of test can detect the new strain of Covid-19 found in the UK.
A process known as gene sequencing will also be carried out. This is a more detailed way of finding new strains. People returning from the UK will still need to quarantine for two weeks.
Asked what happens if a person gets infected between taking the first and second doses, Professor Gauci explained that the first shot should raise a person’s immunity to around 52%. The second increases it to 95%.
If a person is exposed, in-between shots, to someone who is infected, they would still have to take the normal precautions and stay in quarantine.
Replying to questions by The Malta Independent, Professor Borg said trials show that immunity is effective for at least three months from the date of vaccination. The exact length of the effectiveness of the vaccine has to be determined with time.