The vaccines that we have available, notably the Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs, are effective and protect against the Covid-19 variants currently found in Malta, virologist Dr Chris Barbara told The Malta Independent.
This comes after Malta registered its first case of the Delta variant last Friday.
Regarding the Delta variant, which was discovered in India, the virologist assured that the vaccines we have in place right now work, and there are studies to back it.
Quoting a recent UK study, led by Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, Barbara remarked that it found that the Pfizer vaccine, when a person is fully inoculated and a few days pass for immunity to build up, is 88% effective against the Delta variant. Meanwhile, a full vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine is 60% effective against this variant.
These are only just a little bit less effective when compared with the efficacy rate against the Alpha variant (first found in Kent, UK), which the Pfizer is 93% effective against, while the AstraZeneca vaccine is 66% effective against.
The virologist was asked if it was possible for a variant to emerge which would render the vaccine ineffective. “It could be that enough neutralising antibodies are not formed which does not give you enough immunity. Up till now, however, all give a very slim chance of severity of disease and hospitalisation,” Barbara said.
The types of variants are split into three, Barbara said. The first one being Variants of Interest, which is the most common type of virus and which, relatively, is the least worrying for the Health Authorities. Then, there are Variants of Concern – such as the variants which were first reported in the UK, Brazil, South Africa and India. Finally, there are also Variants of High Consequence, something which, luckily, is yet to be seen with the Coronavirus globally.
“These are called variants of high consequence. Up till now, when it comes to the Coronavirus, we have not found any variants of high consequence.” This means that to have a variant which renders the vaccine ineffective “is very unlikely, but not impossible,” Barbara remarked.
He observed that the UK is currently seeing a spike in cases as the Delta variant is taking over the majority of the cases in the UK. However, he said that the case in the UK is quite particular, as the UK opted to give a lot of first doses and delay the second doses, which he believes doesn’t provide enough immunity.
It also seems that the UK is on its way to a third wave, but the virologist remarked that “there are too many variables” to assess how big the spike will be, but the vaccines should help.
He also said that the positive news about the mRNA vaccines is that they could easily be tweaked to build immunity against variants which would render vaccines less effective.
That is why the Health Authorities are still remaining alert and vigilant to the situation, as well as making sure that events are avoided for now, apart from the wearing of masks being retained.
This comes as the Government is set to ease restrictions for events in July, with those who have a vaccine certificate able to benefit and take part in such gatherings. However, the authorities are yet to announce what type of events will be allowed to take place.
The virologist was also asked whether one would still have symptoms if he would, unfortunately, still get Covid-19 even after being fully vaccinated. “You can have minor symptoms, which would not require hospitalisation. You can also be asymptomatic, but you would still transmit the virus.”
However, the positive fact is that the vaccines do work, he remarked, as the World Health Organisation (WHO) generally recommends vaccines at 60% efficacy or more, so the ones we have are “very good”.
A few days ago, there was a delay in a Pfizer batch, resulting in people not getting their second dose on the day which was appointed to them. Asked if this would have any effect on immunity provided by the vaccine since it was not taken in the generally stipulated time, Barbara assured that it does not.
Now, that the vaccination program is approaching its final few cohorts, with adults between 16 and 30 and children between 12 and 15 years of age taking the vaccine soon, Barbara was asked about how close the country is to some form of normality.
He remarked that it is way too early for people to think that the virus is a thing of the past and that it is no longer with us. “If we don’t remain vigilant and a variant of concern hits our shores, it could make transmission of the virus spread rapidly,” Barbara said.
Barbara didn’t exclude another wave from emerging, especially if the variants of concern start to gain ground in the country and people start mingling too early.
Barbara was not against the idea of holding certain pilot projects for events to take place before opening this sector commercially, where they would first test the people, make sure they have the vaccine certificate, and see if any substantial number of cases emerge.