Hospital healthcare staff will be the first to be vaccinated when the COVID-19 jab arrives in Malta at the end of the month, health authorities have confirmed.

The vaccine will be administered on a staggered basis so that if any side effects occur, hospitals and elderly homes will not temporarily lose any key workers.

While a 90-year-old grandmother was the first person to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Britain at the beginning of the month, Malta will be following a different route.

“The first batch of vaccines will be staggered among health care staff, but by the fourth day we will be vaccinating those residing and working in elderly homes,” Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci told Times of Malta.

She said healthcare workers in the same department would not all receive the vaccine together.

“Take, for example, the ITU. We will not give all the workers the jab at the same time,” Gauci said.

This would ensure that if they did feel slight side effects and had to stay away from work, there would not be an entire shortage at the department.

“The same goes for elderly people. We will not vaccinate all elderly people at homes at once, because if a large number of them experience side effects, this will put a huge strain on the healthcare workers.”

Like all vaccines, the coronavirus jab can cause side effects, most of which are mild and go away within days. Common side effects include fever, chills, headaches, joint pain and tiredness, and can be managed with paracetamol.

Malta’s vaccination programme is similar to that in the US, where a New York critical nurse was the first person to be immunised. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that frontline healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities get the vaccine first.

Gauci said Malta’s vaccine plan would ensure no added burden would be placed on workers but she stressed that the side effects were not very strong. The country is expecting to start COVID-19 vaccinations from December 27.

US vice president Mike Pence receives the COVID-19 vaccine at the White House to promote its safety and efficacy. Photo: Doug Mills-PoolUS vice president Mike Pence receives the COVID-19 vaccine at the White House to promote its safety and efficacy. Photo: Doug Mills-Pool

The vaccine will be distributed in five stages, with the first in line those groups most vulnerable to COVID-19: those aged over 85, healthcare workers in hospital and people living or working in homes for the elderly.

Healthcare workers at swabbing centres will also be included in the first cohort.

Gauci has emphasised that the vaccine will not be mandatory for health care workers or the general public.

Asked about the number of healthcare staff and elderly people in the first cohort, Gauci said the health authorities did have an idea but that the figures were constantly being updated.

“When it comes to the database for elderly people, the list is constantly being updated as individuals might be living in elderly homes or might have passed away, so data is constantly being altered,” she said.

“This vaccination programme is different to others.

“With other vaccinations, people just come in and get it done, but with the COVID vaccine, it is important to note who is the priority.”

She also said it was still too early to give a timeline for the vaccination programme, as a lot depended on the speed of manufacturing the vaccines.  

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