Is there any impact on the patients being administered the Pfizer vaccine with an extended expiry date? Is the jab less effective? – Maria Vella

A vaccine’s shelf life can be extended if stability assessment studies show that it remains potent for a longer time than was originally set. The shelf life of different vaccines differs, based on their ingredients and manufacturing process. When vaccines are developed, manufacturers continue to perform stability assessment studies to ensure ongoing monitoring of how long the vaccines will remain safe and effective for use.

The original shelf life is a conservative timeline which can be extended with further studies. To extend the expiration date of a vaccine, the product would need to meet the same requirements that established the original expiration date such that there will be no effect on the quality, safety or efficacy of the vaccine.

Since we can now study the vaccines over longer periods of time, it was expected that expiration dates would be extended. This extension has been approved by the European Medicines Agency after a review of the scientific evidence provided by the company. The extension of expiration dates has occurred not only with the Pfizer vaccine but also with the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson ones.

What happens if a football player playing in a recrea­tional football league tests positive? Do all the players playing alongside (who are all certified as vaccinated) need to be quarantined? I am referring to amateur football. – Mario Briffa

The usual protocols for contact tracing are applied among recreational contact sports, such as football. This means that if a positive case is identified among the group who have been playing, most, if not all, those playing would be placed in quarantine.

Contact sports are high-risk activities since participants are undergoing vigorous physical activity with high respiratory rates and without masks; they get into close proximity of each other, often with physical contact. Quarantine is for 14 days from exposure. Vaccinated contacts put into quarantine are eligible for seven-day early release from quarantine subject to a negative test.

In the UK, there is widespread use of self-testing kits. Is this something Malta will be introducing any time soon? If not, why? – Rita Grech

The introduction of self-testing kits is not envisaged any time soon. PCRs continue to be the gold standard in testing, while rapid antigen testing is reliable in certain circumstances. Being a small country, the set-up and provision of testing hubs dedicated solely to COVID-19 has allowed for thousands to be swabbed on a daily basis. Well-trained staff, proper swabbing techniques and specific protocols in place, together with the use of high-quality test kits, has allowed for the public to be swabbed with test results that are as reliable as possible.

Keeping this in mind, together with the fact that swabbing facilities are abundantly available in the private sector, using recognised test kits and a central reporting system, leaves little room for self-testing kits at this point, which bring with them uncertainty, particularly related to user techniques and reliability of results. This has facilitated surveillance and control of the COVID situation locally.

Ever since the beginning of the pandemic, the COVID situation has continued to evolve. The public health authorities will continue to assess the various para­meters related to testing and will adopt testing modali­ties in accordance with available scientific evidence.

Could you provide a breakdown of where the cases are originating from, as used to be done during the weekly briefing? – Mike Bonello

Over the past week, the majority of cases originated from local transmission, while 10 per cent of the investigated cases were imported and 32 per cent of the cases were part of a cluster which occurred mainly in workplaces, households and small clusters in schools. It was noted that where social distancing and use of masks are not implemented, clusters are more frequent.

From the cases investigated, 56 per cent did not report known contact with a known positive case, hence being defined as a sporadic case which indicates wider community transmission.

What are the ages of those in hospital with COVID-19? – Mary Mintoff

As of Monday, there were 13 active cases in hospital with an average age of 61 years, the youngest aged 36 years and the eldest 77. Four of the admitted cases were not vaccinated.

The factors associated with high risk of hospitalisation for COVID-19 include older age and presence of multiple comorbidities. As long as the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to circulate, infections will continue to occur in people, with some in those who have completed the recommended vaccination schedule. However, infections in vaccinated people do not mean the vaccines are not working since no vaccine is 100 per cent effective, although the effectiveness of all EU-authorised COVID-19 vaccines is very high.

It is clear that vaccinated people are far better protected than unvaccinated people against severe disease and death from COVID-19, including the Delta variant. In mid-November 2020, when no vaccine was available, with 117 new community cases per day, there were 185 persons hospitalised.

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