Healthcare workers and people aged over 85 are just weeks away from being immunised against COVID-19, Health Minister Chris Fearne told parliament on Monday as he provided details of Malta’s vaccination strategy. 

In a brief speech in parliament, Fearne explained how vaccine doses scheduled to reach Malta in the coming weeks would be distributed among the general population and noted that the country had secured more doses than the total population, thanks to an EU joint procurement mechanism. 

When will vaccines be approved? 

Approval for a vaccine manufactured by Pfizer/BioNTech is scheduled to be obtained by December 29, with approval for the Moderna vaccine expected by January 12. 

When will Malta receive a vaccine? 

The first doses of the Pfizer vaccine will reach Malta in the first days of January. Doses of the Moderna vaccine are expected in early February.

Who will receive the vaccine first? 

Three cohorts will receive the vaccine in January: 

• Healthcare workers in public and private hospitals; 
• Staff and residents in homes for the elderly and mental hospital patients;
• People aged 85 and over. 

In February, the following will be vaccinated: 
• All other frontliners;
• People aged over 80;

The third cohort will include: 
• People with chronic illness; 
• People aged over 70; 
• Staff at schools and childcare centres;

A fourth cohort will follow: 
• People over 55. 

The rest of the population will be vaccinated after that. 

When will you receive the COVID-19 vaccine? Video: Joe Paolella

How will I know that I am eligible for vaccination?

You will receive a letter in the post with an appointment date and location where you can receive your first of two vaccine doses. The letter will also include details for when you will be able to receive your second vaccine dose, to be taken 21 days after an initial jab. 

I am housebound. How will I receive my vaccine? 

People who cannot leave their home will be visited by a specialised outreach team, which will vaccinate people in their homes without compromising the vaccine’s cold chain requirements, Fearne said. 

Chris Fearne announced the strategy in parliament. Photo: Matthew MirabelliChris Fearne announced the strategy in parliament. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

How much will the vaccine cost?

The vaccine will be provided free-of-charge.

How is Malta obtaining its vaccine doses?

Malta is part of a joint procurement mechanism established by the European Union, which is intended to ensure that all member states will have access to COVID-19 vaccines at the same time. 

The EU has so far sealed deals with six vaccine manufacturers, but procurement will depend on each of those vaccines being cleared by the European Medicines Authority. 

One of those six vaccines, manufactured by Pfizer and BioNtech, is currently being assessed by the EMA and is on track to receive emergency approval by the end of the year. 

The UK issued emergency authorisation for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine last week and is expected to start rolling out a vaccination campaign on Tuesday. While UK regulators have waived legal liability for the vaccine manufacturer as part of the rapid approval process, EU regulators have said that they will hold manufacturers legally responsible for any failings

How many vaccine doses will Malta receive?  

Fearne has previously said that Malta is expecting 500,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. That is enough to immunise 250,000 people, as patients must receive two jabs to obtain immunity to the virus. 

On Monday, Fearne said that the EU’s contracts with the three vaccine manufacturing frontrunners – Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca – would ensure Malta would have 1.6 million vaccine doses. 

If vaccines being manufactured by three other companies which the EU has deals with also prove to be effective and safe, then Malta would have a further 700,000 doses. 

This means, in effect, that Malta will have far more COVID-19 vaccine doses than it needs to inoculate the entire population. 

How will the cold chain be assured? 

Pfizer’s vaccine must be stored at extremely cold temperatures as low as -70 degrees Celsius. 

Fearne said that while transportation arrangements would remain confidential, each shipment would feature a unique identifier code and GPS tracker to ensure the cold chain remained uninterrupted. 

The Health Ministry has previously said that Malta has the facilities required to store the Pfizer vaccine doses at appropriate temperatures.

Other vaccines manufactured by different companies have different cold storage requirements. 

Which other vaccines might be administered? 

Apart from Pfizer/BioNTech, the EU has signed contracts with: 
• AstraZeneca
• Curevac
• Moderna
• Sanofi-GSK
• Johnson & Johnson

Moderna's vaccine is likely to be approved by early January. AstraZeneca's is likely to be next in line for assessment. The remaining three manufacturers have yet to announce their results of phase 3 trials. 

Will the vaccine be mandatory?

No. The Health Minister has previously said that vaccination will be optional. 

I have a question that I need an answer to. Who can help? 

A new helpline dedicated to vaccination questions is being set up, Fearne told parliament. Details will be provided in due course. 

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