The AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19 has officially arrived in Malta, according to Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne and a Government COVID-19 Malta information page on Facebook.
Its arrival is a cause for celebration, as Prime Minister Robert Abela said it will pave the way for Malta’s vaccination programme to be sped up by two weeks.
Authorities hope to vaccinate all people classified as vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus, all frontline workers and elderly by end March. The arrival of the vaccine could bring this deadline forward to mid-March.
Members of the business community, such as SME Chamber CEO Abigail Mamo, have called on Malta to ensure a speedy roll out so that the island is well placed to be more competitive in attracting tourism and investment.
The EU has been criticised for falling behind its vaccination programme, as the USA, the UK and Israel lead the global effort.
Arrival of the AstraZeneca vaccine so early after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved it at the end of January was less certain up until recently, with supply issues facing the Anglo-Swedish company causing a dispute with the EU.
AstraZeneca had agreed to deliver millions of doses in January-March but then said significantly fewer jabs would arrive on time. It blamed production problems at European plants.
The EU is demanding the firm divert jabs from the UK, while the UK Government has said there “will be no interruption” to UK supply.
The EU signed a deal with AstraZeneca in August for 300 million doses, with an option for 100 million more, but the UK-Swedish company has reported production delays at factories in the Netherlands and Belgium.
AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said production was “basically two months behind where we wanted to be”.
The EU was expecting to receive around 100 million doses before end March, and are now expecting 25 million, an official said on Wednesday.
Malta has one million doses ordered, however it is unclear how many have arrived in Sunday evening’s first shipment.
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