Survivors of COVID-19 should still get vaccinated because natural immunity from the infection is "low and short-lived" but vaccine immunity is "shown to be stronger and last longer," Charmaine Gauci has urged.

The superintendent of public health used her weekly public briefing to urge the more than 8,000 people who have recovered from coronavirus to take the vaccine when it becomes available next year. 

A high uptake of the vaccine in Malta is expected, she said, adding that studies show side effects "aren't very strong" and include light fever and tiredness.

The first doses are scheduled to arrive in the first week of January, Health Minister Chris Fearne has said, with the European Medicines Agency imposing a December 29 deadline to grant approval.

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Who will be vaccinated first?

Previously, health authorities have said the elderly and frontliners will be the frist to be vaccinated. However Gauci said that a final decision on the priority list will be published according to the number of doses allocated to Malta. 

Asked if Malta will be back to "business as usual" by May, as Prime Minister Robert Abela has predicted, Gauci said it would depend on several factors.

"It depends on how many doses we're going to get, what the vaccine uptake is going to be and how much the vaccine decreases the risk of transmission in the community."

Her weekly update comes as the island passed the grim milestone of 10,000 total cases of COVID-19 since the virus first arrived in March. On Friday, 123 new patients were recorded with 105 recoveries. 

The death of an 85-year-old man on Thursday was also announced, taking the overall total number of deaths to 149. He contracted the virus on 21 November and was a resident at the St Vincent de Paul facility for the elderly. 

Where are the patients being treated?

Gauci noted a slight increase in the number of patients being treated in intensive care with 17 cases at Mater Dei's ITU. 

While the majority of the 2,051 active cases are recovering at home, others are in various hospital wards:

  • Infections Diseases Unit - 11
  • Mater Dei wards - 45
  • Boffa hospital - 23
  • St Thomas hospital - 24
  • Karen Grech hospital - 19
  • The Good Samaritan facility - 64
  • Mount Carmel hospital - 3
  • Gozo hospital - 3

Last week there were 17 deaths.

How is COVID-19 being spread?

Gauci identified four clusters of cases, with the largest, by far being connected through households (138 cases), followed by the workplace (41) and social gatherings (17). Just 10 cases this week were imported. 

The average age of a COVID-19 patient is 45 but Gauci warned that there was an increase of cases in the highly-vulnerable 85-94 age group. 

"Prevention is important, especially since we are staying indoors more," Gauci warned. "The chances of infecting each other are greater so let's remember to keep physical distance from each other to prevent droplet transmission."

When will COVID-19 prevention measures end?

Gauci referred to the imminent approval of a COVID-19 vaccine, which is scheduled for roll-out in Malta in January but she stressed that mitigation measures would stay in place.

"Vaccines are good and the first step in our aim of decreasing deaths," she said. "Then, in the coming months, as more people are vaccinated, we can see the effect on local transmission. 

"But until then don’t give up on mitigation measures because until we’re all vaccinated that’s how we’re going to protect ourselves from COVID-19," she said. 

She said some 4,168 people are currently in quarantine in Malta, but would not divulge how many are students. 

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