The number of people aged 85 and over admitted to hospital with COVID-19 has plummeted by 80% in recent weeks, according to preliminary data from a Mater Dei Hospital study.

Medical sources told Times of Malta that just six patients aged 85 or older had been hospitalised with COVID-19 in the last week of January, compared to 28 in the first week of the year.

The collapse in hospital admissions coincides with vaccination of the high-risk age group, which was among the first to be inoculated against the virus.

Although the study findings are preliminary and based on a small sample size, the massive decline in admissions adds to authorities’ hopes that vaccination is being effective at protecting the most vulnerable from the virus.

Health Minister Chris Fearne declined to discuss the study but confirmed that its preliminary results were “very, very encouraging”.

“Science never fails! My advice to all those receiving appointments for COVID-19 vaccination is to take it. Meanwhile, over the holiday long weekend we need to keep vigilant and responsible.”

The study is expected to continue monitoring admissions of additional age groups as they get vaccinated, with more comprehensive data expected in the coming weeks and months as more people get the jab. 

A similar study in Israel found that COVID-19 hospitalisations of over 60s fell by more than 30% after that cohort received the first of two vaccine shots.

Malta started administering COVID-19 vaccines on December 27, with healthcare frontliners the first to receive the inoculation. Senior citizens living in care homes and all those aged 85 or older who still live within the community followed.

Persons considered vulnerable because of certain illnesses will start being vaccinated in the coming days.

Those vaccinated so far have received jabs manufactured by either Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna. Both jabs require two doses, administered some weeks apart, to be effective and both have been found to be more than 95% effective in clinical trials.

A third vaccine approved for use, made by AstraZeneca, has yet to be administered in Malta. Authorities said earlier this week that it would only be administered to patients aged under 55, due to insufficient clinical data about its effectiveness in older adults. The first batch is expected to arrive in Malta later on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Malta is currently rushing ahead in its COVID-19 vaccination drive compared to the other EU member states, registering the highest uptake rate in all of Europe.

Data compiled by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) shows that as of Saturday, Malta had a national vaccine uptake of 5.4%. This was the highest rate registered in all of Europe.

Only Iceland and Ireland had figures that were close to those of Malta, at 4.6% and 4.1% respectively.

National vaccine uptake estimates are calculated by dividing the number of doses administrated to individuals aged 18 and older by the size of the adult population.

As of Friday, a total of 35,676 doses had been administered, of which 7,594 were second jabs.

The authorities have said they hope to achieve herd immunity against COVID-19 by the beginning of summer. Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely.

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