Should the number of new cases still be our benchmark?

Malta’s vaccination campaign has been hailed by everyone. From the World Health Organisation to the European Commission. Official figures show that the overall average coverage among the different age groups is at 76% for the first dose and 57% for the second dose. Moreover, in just a few weeks, 30% of the 16+ age group has already been fully vaccinated.

The real success of Malta’s vaccination strategy emerges from the fact that the momentum is being sustained. On the contrary, a number of EU countries are seeing a decline in vaccination interest. These include Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. Yet, the situation in Malta is the opposite, with the European Commission estimating that at the current vaccination pace, all those aged 16+ will be fully vaccinated by the end of July.

Studies show that the chances of someone who is fully vaccinated, contracting the virus and spreading it to someone else are very minimal. At the same time, and perhaps more importantly, the chances of someone requiring hospitalisation are even lower.

In this context, should we keep focusing on the daily number of new cases?

Rewind back to March when the vaccination coverage was still low, when a 3-digit figure of daily cases was the norm, and when the sixth ICU unit had to be set up in the Maltese islands. The correlation between the number of cases, hospitalisations and deaths was real and worrying.

Such worry is no longer present today. Not simply because the number of active cases is relatively low, but because none of the present active cases require medical attention, and can be treated at home.

As more restrictions are lifted, albeit cautiously, and as more tourists start pouring in, the number of cases will undoubtedly rise again. This will bring about new pressures from some quarters to go for a new set of restrictions. But the question that should be asked is how many of these new cases will require hospitalisation or pose danger to a person’s life?

The fact that Malta’s vaccination rate is so high, and with approximately 90% of vulnerable people vaccinated, means that a rise in the number of cases will not necessarily translate into higher pressure on our healthcare system. Therefore, this should allow us to move forward cautiously, yet with peace of mind as restrictions are eased and tourists start flooding our streets.

Shifting our focus to hospitalisations rather than new cases in a post-vaccination scenario will also help us to take more long-term decisions on the lifting of restrictions and health protocols in place.

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