This Sunday, a nurse who works at Mater Dei Hospital will become the first Maltese citizen to be given the COVID-19 vaccine. This is an important milestone in the fight against the virus, and it will set the ball rolling for the two-part vaccine to be administered to the rest of the population.
The process is undoubtedly going to take months. As has already been revealed by the Minister for Health, on 7 January 2021, letters will be sent out to those who are 85 years and older giving them a day and place for vaccination. But this will only happen after healthcare staff, namely those from Mater Dei, Gozo General, Mount Carmel, St Thomas, the Good Samaritan, and Boffa hospitals, as well as St Vincent de Paul Residence, will start receiving theirs.
Vaccinating a whole nation is no mean feat, and even in a country like Malta where the population is small, this will be a titanic undertaking. Yet it is doable given people are willing to place their trust in experts and follow guidelines.
So, when my turn comes, here is why I will be taking the COVID-19 vaccination:
– The COVID-19 vaccines that are making their way to Malta have been authorised by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). This entity’s job is to protect and promote health, and I have no doubt that every precaution has been taken to ensure that the vaccine is safe before approving its use in the 27 member states. When approving any type of vaccine, experts weigh the benefits of the drug against the risks of the disease. Only when all known benefits outweigh all known risks does a vaccine get approved. Also, while we’re at it, these particular vaccines were made and approved as quickly as they were because following the Ebola epidemic, many entities dedicated bucket-loads of money and put specialised task forces in place to be able to do so.
– A vaccine can only work its magic when around three-quarters of the population has received it: this isn’t an exercise in just me or you not getting sick from COVID, but about COVID not being allowed to spread. Since most of the approved vaccines are between 90 to 95% effective, it is important that it is taken by as many people as possible to give us a good shot at herd immunity. Moreover, since anyone under the age of 16, anyone who is pregnant, breastfeeding, or who is planning on getting pregnant in the next two months cannot be vaccinated against COVID, then it is up to people like me to ensure that this happens.
– Finally, a vaccine is currently the only hope we have to get things under control. Achieving herd immunity through community transmission has patently not worked as this also means that those whose immune system cannot handle it will die, many will have long COVID symptoms, and those who do survive it may end up not being immune to it after all. (So please stop quoting Sweden’s widely acknowledged failures as an example.) In the end, even if the vaccine doesn’t stop a person catching or spreading COVID, if it reduces the symptoms and makes rehabilitation faster, then that may mean more survivors.
I am no virologist, nor a public health expert, but I also don’t take what they say lightly. If the people who have studied and worked in such areas believe that this is the best way forward, then I will take what they say is the most reasonable and researched path. And, well, so should you.