Malta’s 16-year-olds were among the first in the EU to book their COVID vaccine appointments on Monday but, while many see it as a passport to a social life, some parents are concerned about the timing as key exams approach.

The island closely followed Hungary in offering the vaccine to the youngest cohort, giving Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to those aged 16 and 17, with all other brands approved for those aged 18 and over.

With the vaccine programme effectively opened up to the entire population, one 17-year-old greeted the offer with: “It’s about time I start living!”

But her worried mother, and others who spoke to Times of Malta, expressed some concern about the timing in view of upcoming O and A levels.

Not only are they worried their appointments could clash with their exams but they also fear the teens may come down with short term but debilitating side effects, such as headaches, chills and fever that would interfere with studying.

“Every day of studying is crucial and they cannot afford to be ill at any point,” one mother said.

Another said her son would apply for the inoculation after his Matsec exams, which start on Saturday, to avoid any risks.

For older students attending university, meeting deadlines and sitting for exams it was not ideal either to be vaccinated now and “added extra stress”, another mother pointed out.

Some have been advised by Saħħa, the government’s health information platform, to apply and change their appointment date in the eventuality that it falls on an exam day.

While parents might have concerns, their children do not need their go-ahead to register. According to the Health Act, parental approval for medical treatment is not required.

Scarlett Stafrace, who registered for the vaccine yesterday, admitted to being in two minds when the news that it was on offer emerged.

Most of her friends shared the same initial scepticism in terms of current and future health issues, given that “it was not always certain whether the jab was safe for my age group”.

But Stafrace and others in the same boat have put these concerns behind them, knowing inoculation would “ease” their lives, which took a hit over the last “chaotic” year.

The 16-year-old lost out on the opportunity to say a proper goodbye to her secondary schoolmates when the pandemic broke out in 2020 and then proceeded to attend Sixth Form online, missing out on the chance to make new friends and keep in contact with others.

“I figured that, in the long run, the jab would help the situation”, opening the door to travel, Stafrace said,  and allowing her to feel “more comfortable mingling with different people I do not know well. We are sick of staying at home and not meeting people”.

The “incredible power of the media and peer pressure” was also highlighted by the mother of another 16-year-old boy.

The teenager insisted on being vaccinated, despite his mother’s advice to wait since he had contracted COVID and she felt he could probably afford to hold out for a while. 

“He told me he needs to feel relaxed and accepted by his peers, so he went ahead an applied alone without my consent,” she said.

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