What are your views regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine for 60+ year olds? – Mariella Hili

The Maltese authorities have raised the upper age limit for the AstraZeneca vaccine to 70 years.

This is in line with WHO recommendations and is backed by recent published studies showing that the vaccine, even when given to persons above 65, significantly reduces severe illness, hospitalisations and death from COVID-19 in this age group.  

The WHO report on available AstraZeneca data found that the vaccine would work on all age groups in adults including the highly vulnerable category of 65 and over. 

AstraZeneca has been granted authorisation for use to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in people from the age of 18 upwards. 

How many children currently have COVID-19? I was quite worried to hear the minister say the variant impacts kids more. – Annalise Chircop

Children of all ages can become ill with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). But most kids who are infected typically don’t become as sick as adults and some might not show any symptoms at all. 

Children who have underlying medical conditions including congenital heart disease, genetic conditions or conditions affecting the nervous system or metabolism are also at higher risk of serious illness with COVID-19.

Viruses constantly change through mutation and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. In terms of transmission, the virus variant that was identified in the United Kingdom shows an increase in transmissibility across all age groups. This includes increased transmission among younger children as well.

Among the latest 2,711 active cases, there are 83 children in the 0-5 age group, 85 in the 6-10 age group and 175 in the 11-17 age group.

Will herd immunity be achieved when 70 per cent of the population has been vaccinated or has this changed because of the variant? –  Marco Ellul

The number of people needed to create herd immunity depends on the reproductive number which is a measure of how many people each infected person will infect on average.

The best way to reach herd immunity is by vaccination. Model predictions depend on the vaccine being able to limit the transmission of the virus. An estimate of the rate of spread of the first variant of SARS-CoV-2, during the first stages of the epidemic, is R=3. The corresponding herd immunity level for this value of R is 67 per cent, therefore, assuming a vaccine efficacy of 90 per cent, we need to vaccinate around 74 per cent of the population to achieve herd immunity.  

The emergence of the variants will have an impact on the level required to be achieved as a more infectious variant will push up the needed vaccination levels.

A recent measure was announced regarding the limit of four households permitted to mix indoors. Is this not in contradiction to public health advice where the message has always been that persons from different households should not mix? – Alexia Camilleri

This new measure aims at providing a legal tool through which enforcement can be applied for private events which are held within one’s own residence. One hopes that this, together with the population’s sense of civic responsibility, will act as a deterrent for underground events.  

From the public health aspect, the advice that households should not mix where possible still holds and is even more relevant now that we have detected an increased number of infections attributable to the more transmissible UK variant.

Thus, we appeal to the good sense of all to make their own assessment of risk should they anyway choose to meet persons outside their household, keeping in mind that risk is cumulative, in proportion to the number of households and different persons one meets and that the safest option always remains to socialise only within one’s immediate household or virtually with others.

Have any questions to ask the superintendent? Send an e-mail to askcharmaine@timesofmalta.com.

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