There’s good reason to celebrate this morning as a Maltese nurse rolls up her sleeve to become the first person to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Malta.

The vaccine is being rolled out as 2020 tails off, just a year after the first coronavirus case was reported in China. Since then, the virus has killed almost 1.75 million people and decimated the world economy. We will keep counting the real costs of such a pandemic for most of 2021.

This is why the availability of a vaccine in record time should inject so much hope after a year of persistent bad news.

It could be tragic if we are to start letting our guard down from today, but we can say it’s the first major step to recovery, especially since the science so far tells us the vaccine appears to be as safe as it can get in the circumstances.

The Pfizer vaccine is 52 per cent effective after the first dose and 95 per cent after the second. That is a medical marvel since it is as around twice as effective as the flu vaccine.

“It is essential that people get educated and then they get vaccinated. It’s the only way we’re going to get out of this pandemic,” the Maltese CEO of Mayo Clinic Gianrico Farrugia told CNBC this week.

The important point many of us are overlooking is that this is a race against time – we cannot afford to have too many people rejecting the vaccine or sitting on the fence, biding their time before deciding to take it.

For the vaccination programme to be effective, the vast majority of the population will have to take it.

The absolute last thing we can afford is to sink millions into a massive vaccination programme, only for it to fail because not enough people take the vaccine, preventing the so-called herd immunity.

The country can’t get back to work fully until the outbreak is contained, and the vaccine is the way to get there.

The Esprimi survey we are publishing today shows 16 per cent who will refuse to take the vaccine while almost 14 per cent remain uncertain.

It is natural that the public will demand the highest possible assurances of safety. Shots can be unpleasant and sometimes come with side effects. Like any vaccine, there are those whose immune systems will not tolerate it. Of course, just like any vaccine or medicine, there is still an argument to be made that there might be possible long-term effects.

But it is frustrating to continue seeing so many conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers and other extremists rejecting the science staring them in the face that vaccines do actually work.

Panic over the new UK strain has shown just how fragile and vulnerable we all are to any new virus outbreaks, and the more time passes, the greater the risks of other, more virulent mutations emerging.

The government also has a mammoth challenge ahead of it. We can only hope that the complex distribution process proceeds as smoothly as possible, with as few obstacles and bureaucracy as possible. If we manage this hurdle, the government should aim high to make Malta one of the first countries in Europe to distribute the vaccine among all those who are eligible for it.

Healthcare is the one sector that successive Maltese governments have excelled in. We can only hope the authorities once again rise to the occasion to be able to inoculate the majority of the population within weeks, even if it poses the biggest logistical challenge in living memory.

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