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Will Malta achieve 'herd immunity' by Summer 2021?

Around 1,400 people have been vaccinated against COVID-19 in Malta during the first week, as authorities attempt to reach the ‘herd immunity’ target by early summer 2021. 

The number of people being vaccinated is expected to increase to 2,000 per week in the coming days, and then exponentially to 5,000 vaccinations weekly, according to authorities.

In this way, by mid-February, the vaccination should (key word: should), have been administered to all the frontliners and those over the age of 85, before its rolled out to others.

By the middle of January, Health Minister Chris Fearne said that an estimated 100,000 additional vaccines are expected from Moderna, which is easier to distribute than the Pfizer vaccine. 

What is herd immunity?

We’ve heard the term ‘herd immunity’ being thrown around for months now. But what does it mean exactly and how does it affect us during a pandemic?

Essentially, when most of a population is immune to a virus or disease, it provides indirect protection, or herd immunity, to those who are not immune. For instance, if 80% of a population is immune to the virus, 4 out of 5 people who then encounter the virus, will not get sic and also, will not spread the virus any further. Therefore, the spread is kept under control. Depending on how contagious a disease or virus is, usually 50% to 90% of a population needs to be immune to achieve herd immunity. 

In the same vein, a spokesperson for the health authorities said that the plan is for the country to achieve herd immunity by the beginning of summer 2021. That being said, Martin Balzan, Medical Association of Malta president, warned that significant efforts need to be made to ensure that the vaccine is administered in a timely manner.

Prime Minister Robert Abela and Deputy Chris Fearne with the first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

“If the objective of the prime minister is to be back to business as usual by the end of May, our infrastructure for handing out the vaccine is lagging.”

Balzan said that he expects all of MAM (Medical Association of Malta) members to be vaccinated in four weeks time. Malta began rolling out its vaccination on 27 December, along with other EU states. With Malta having vaccinated around 0.29% of its population, the ‘vaccine race’ is clearly being won by Israel, who has vaccinated over a million people as of yesterday, 11.5% of its whole population. It is followed by Bahrain (3.49%), the United kingdom (1.47%) and the US (0.84%).

According to data collated by Our World in Data, a collaboration between Oxford University and an educational charity, 0.13% of the globe’s population have been vaccinated so far.