Malta has detected 12 new cases of the highly-transmissible COVID variant that first emerged in the UK, Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci said on Wednesday.

The first three cases were detected at the end of December, linked to travel from the UK. 

Another six were eventually detected, linked to one of these cases - a 75-year-old Maltese woman - while a further six are being investigated to trace their origin. 

This means that so far, 15 positive cases in Malta have been linked to the UK variant, which studies suggest spreads 30 per cent to 70 per cent faster than others and may be more deadly.

Replying to questions from Times of Malta readers, Gauci said Malta has enhanced genetic sequencing testing, which helps professionals detect mutations. 

She said that the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine are both expected to work against this variant.

Malta's COVID-19 vaccinations programme was this week extended to those aged 80 and over. All front-liners have also received at least one jab and the programme has now been extended to other sectors such as medical staff who are not in regular contact with patients, as well as policemen and soldiers.

However, after hearing about elderly people, including a couple aged 90 and 91, who have not yet been vaccinated, Gauci encouraged anyone in this situation to phone the helpline 145. 

"For those who have already called us, please hang on. We have your details and we will get in touch," she said, without providing details on how long they might have to wait until they receive the vaccine. 

Malta will stick to recommended dose gap

While some countries such as the UK have delayed the second dose in order to inoculate more people, Malta will continue following the manufacturers' recommendations that are based on clinical trials, Gauci said.

The recommended gap between the first and second dose of the Pfizer jab, which is the vaccine that is currently being administered in Malta, is 21 days. 

The AstraZeneca manufacturers are recommending a gap of up to 12 weeks.

Gauci noted that Malta was waiting for further studies to understand how long COVID immunity lasts following the administration of a second dose of the jab. 

In case of the need for a third dose, Malta will use the same joint procurement method it has implemented over the past months to secure first and second doses of the various vaccinations.

Gauci said that for now, only those most at risk are being prioritised.

“The main scope of the vaccination programme is to target people who would most benefit from the jab. We therefore need to protect those who are most at risk.

“People with severe chronic conditions are also high on the list. We will not be prioritising people who need to go abroad for work.”

She added that those who have been vaccinated have been put on a database so that the state would be able to provide them with a certificate in case proof of vaccination is required by airlines in the future.

Watch the programme, conducted by Diana Cacciottolo, below. 


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