ROME (Reuters) - Malta will start giving a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine to vulnerable people in mid-September, the health minister said on Thursday.
"We will initially give the booster jab to immunocompromised people and the elderly in care homes," Chris Fearne said, adding that a decision has not been taken yet on whether to extend it to the wider population.
"We are still studying the effectiveness of the vaccines given so far," he told reporters.
Malta has vaccinated 86% of its population and is currently inoculating children aged between 12 and 16.
Fearne also said health authorities were urging pregnant women to get vaccinated if they were in their second or third trimester, reversing previous advice.
"This is a clear example of how data on the vaccines evolves. Initially, we did not have any evidence and so the advice was to avoid taking the vaccine. Now, it seems that the risks of not getting vaccinated are higher than if you take it," he said.
Vaccinated people who come into close contact with positive cases would from now on need to quarantine for a week, instead of the current two weeks, Fearne said, as long as they did not test positive themselves.
He said, however, that authorities did not consider it safe enough yet to allow stand-up activities such as concerts and discos, and will continue to restrict public gatherings to sit-down events with not more than six people sitting around each table.
This drew criticism from the entertainment industry, with one entertainers' association saying the government was wrong to classify all stand-up activities together when they could be of various sizes and could be handled differently.
(Reporting by Christopher Scicluna, editing by Gavin Jones and Giles Elgood)