Why is it that we are still seeing high numbers? Other countries, like the UK, have seen the new cases of COVID-19 go down as a result of the vaccines. We don’t seem to be seeing this just yet, why? – Andrew Vella

As of the latest risk assessment carried out by ECDC, by February 7, 2021, the 14-day case notification rate for the EU/EEA was 359 (country range: 8-1 190) per 100, 000 population. Between January 14 and February 10 (four weeks), the number of countries reporting increased 14-day case notification rates decreased from 13 to eight (Bulgaria, Czechia, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Luxembourg, and Slovakia).

The number of countries with increasing test-positivity rates decreased from seven to three (Bulgaria, Estonia, and Poland). Since January 21, EU/EEA countries have observed a substantial increase in the number and proportion of SARS-CoV-2 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, first reported in the United Kingdom. Ireland reports B.1.1.7 to be the dominant circulating SARS-CoV-2 strain and, based on growth trajectories observed, several other countries are expecting a similar situation in the coming weeks. The B.1.1.7 variant appears to be more transmissible than the previously predominant circulating strains and will lead to increases in incidence.

Although vaccine roll-out has started in all EU/EEA countries, targeting priority groups based on their risk of developing severe disease (the elderly and residents in long-term care facilities) as well as healthcare and other front-line workers, it is still too early to detect an impact on COVID-19 incidence, mortality or hospitalisations before roll-out expands further.

Will children ever be given the COVID-19 vaccine? – Amy Galea

In general, kids have a lower risk of getting severely sick with COVID-19 compared with older adults. However, it is important to have a vaccine approved for children as well. Children’s immune systems respond differently at different ages, from infancy through the teenage years.

Hence, the clinical trials which have been done in adults for ages 16 and up needs to be repeated in children of younger ages. Researchers will need to examine the dosages, the interval between doses and the number of doses that work best in children. Both Pfizer and Moderna recently began new vaccine trials including children.

I am 37 and have no vulnerabilities. When can I expect the vaccine? – Chris Abela

With the availability of vaccines against COVID-19, four stages have been identified in accordance with availability. First stage: initial supply of vaccine; second stage: progressive increase in supply, commencing of additional types of vaccines; third stage: more availability of vaccines of different types and fourth stage: availability to cover all the population.

Malta is moving through these phases as currently there are already three vaccines that have been authorised by the European Medicines Agency and are being used to vaccinate various groups. Younger people who do not have conditions which increase the risk of vulnerability will be vaccinated when we open to the population in general.

Some people do not want to take the AstraZeneca vaccine. Will they be given a choice? Why? – Ruth Grech

All the COVID-19 vaccines which are being administered have the aim of preventing serious disease caused by COVID-19 infection. The vaccine brands may have different mechanisms for producing antibodies against COVID-19 but all are safe, good quality and effective. So, the public will not be given a choice as to the type of vaccine they will receive.

Will a coronavirus vaccine need to be given annually? – Christopher Galea

When a vaccine is licensed, only information about the duration of immunity for that particular period of time included in the trial is available. The vaccine 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 like influenza.

What is the process of the development of a vaccine? – Mary Vella

The general stages of the development cycle of a vaccine are the exploratory stage; pre-clinical stage; clinical development; regulatory review and approval; manufacturing; quality control; and post-marketing surveillance.

Clinical development is a three-phase process. During Phase I, small groups of people receive the trial vaccine. In Phase II, the clinical study is expanded and the vaccine is given to people who have characteristics (such as age and physical health) similar to those for whom the new vaccine is intended. In Phase III, the vaccine is given to thousands of people and tested for efficacy and safety.

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