Why have tertiary education schools, universities and institutes not been reopened as was the case with schools for younger students? Is it not important for students at this level to be in a classroom or lecture room environment to get the best learning experience? Will you allow for these to open safely before the end of the scholastic year? - Amanda Agius

In considering gradual reopening, post-secondary and tertiary education, universities and institutes have been classified separately since these are attended by adolescents and adults whose pattern of transmission of COVID-19 is unlike that of children whereby there is some evidence to show somewhat less possibility of becoming infected with and transmitting the virus as compared to adults.

In addition, these educational settings by design take place in different premises or lecture halls according to their choice subject, which, invariably, necessitates mixing of bubbles.

These are all measures which, to an extent can be ‘controlled’ up to secondary education settings. However, in such settings, there will be more persons potentially exposed to a positive case.

Moreover, although the social aspect of such settings is also important, interactions between persons outside the classroom is also an opportunity for mixing which is still considered an additional risk in the current scenario. The reopening of such settings has also been considered in the plan for careful easing of the public health measures and it will be announced in due course at the point when it is considered safe.

We run a childcare and kindergarten and ask our staff to take routine swab tests. Nearly all our staff have now been vaccinated, with the last ones due to be vaccinated shortly. Should we continue to ask them to take routine swab tests, or is it unnecessary at this point? - Frank Baldacchino

One is considered to be fully vaccinated when two weeks elapse following the administration of the final dose of the COVID vaccine. Evidence so far has shown very good protection against severe illness from COVID-19. However, there have been instances where fully vaccinated persons have still resulted positive for COVID-19.

Thus, such a routine swabbing recommendation should continue at least until all staff are fully vaccinated. Emphasis should be placed on ensuring staff/students do not attend school if unwell and also that a swab is requested for symptomatic persons, irrespective of vaccination status.

Are all the vaccines still effective against all the different variants? - Carmen Mifsud

When a virus is circulating in a population and causing many infections, the likelihood of the virus mutating increases. As more opportunities for spread increase, the more the virus replicates and, therefore, the more the opportunities for it to undergo changes.

The COVID-19 vaccines that are currently in development or have been approved are expected to provide at least some protection against new virus variants. This happens since vaccines elicit a broad immune response involving a range of antibodies and cells. So, vaccines are still offering protection to varying degrees against variants.

Vaccines are a critical tool in this COVID-19 pandemic with public health and life-saving benefits.

One should not refrain from being vaccinated due to concerns regarding variants as these are the best tools we have.

What has been shown so far is that if a person receives a full course of vaccination, then there’s enough protective immunity in the body to protect against severe disease, even from these variants. Companies and labs around the world are working on newer versions of the vaccine, which accommodate the proteins of the variant virus.

Is it likely that the COVID-19 vaccine will be needed to be taken annually? - Michael Cuschieri

When a vaccine is licensed, the information about the length of immunity which is available is limited to the particular period included in the trial. However, as vaccines are rolled out in various countries, the manufacturer will continue to monitor vaccine recipients for several months or more so that, over time, we will continue to get a better picture of the duration of immunity.

With this information, we will be better able to understand whether vaccines against COVID-19 will require annual dosing. We must also factor in the way that the virus may change and we would therefore require a “booster” dose more suited to the type of virus in circulation.

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

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us