Singapore accepts vaccine strategy recommendations

SINGAPORE (CNA) – Singapore’s government has accepted in full the recommendations of the Expert Committee on COVID-19 Vaccination on the overall vaccination strategy of Singapore, its health ministry said yesterday.

Healthcare workers will be vaccinated first starting December 30, beginning with those at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID). Vaccinations will subsequently roll out to more healthcare institutions in the coming weeks.

Singapore said public healthcare institutions – including acute hospitals, community hospitals and polyclinics – as well as private hospitals, will progressively arrange for their staff members to be vaccinated within their premises.

It added that it aims to begin vaccinating the elderly, starting with those aged 70 and above, from February next year.

“Thereafter we will vaccinate other Singaporeans and long-term residents who are medically eligible for vaccination. More details will be shared in due course,” said the health ministry.

It said comprehensive vaccination coverage in the population will ensure that Singapore is protected from COVID-19. This will also indirectly protect those who cannot be vaccinated due to medical reasons.

“In the longer term, this will enable us to re-open further both as a society and economy, and expedite our recovery from the pandemic. While COVID-19 vaccination will be voluntary, we strongly encourage everyone who is medically eligible for vaccination to get vaccinated when the vaccine is offered,” said the ministry.

The vaccine will be free for all Singaporeans and long-term residents, including long-term work permit holders.

While the current number of cases in the community remains low, MoH added that the risk for further importation of COVID-19 and community spread will increase as Singapore moves into Phase 3 and given the global COVID-19 situation.

It said that vaccination is “not a silver bullet that can end the pandemic immediately” but that it is a key enabler to getting Singapore back to a “safer state of affairs”.

“It will complement other existing key enablers – safe management measures, testing and contact tracing – which will continue to be necessary in helping us to mitigate any spread and keep community transmission low.”

The ministry also said that Singaporeans should continue to remain vigilant and disciplined in the fight against COVID-19 by observing safe distancing and safe management measures. They should also wear a mask when out in public.

The Expert Committee on COVID-19 Vaccination, which submitted its recommendations on Thursday, highlighted that two main groups should be prioritised for vaccination using the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine – those at high risk of being infected with COVID-19 and those who are most vulnerable to severe disease and complications if they fall ill with the coronavirus.

The prioritisation of these groups is in view of the limited supply of vaccines, the current disease epidemiology and public health considerations, said the committee in a press release.

Those at high risk of being infected with COVID-19 include healthcare workers and workers at the frontline of Singapore’s COVID-19 response.

“There is a duty to protect these workers who place themselves at higher risk of infection in the course of caring for our population, and to ensure the continued effective functioning of our healthcare system and our national systems for preventing and containing epidemic spread,” said the committee.

Individuals who are most vulnerable to severe disease and complications if they fall ill with COVID-19 include the elderly and those with vascular medical comorbidities.

Even within the older age groups, the committee said that COVID-19 patients aged 70 and above have worse health outcomes than those aged 60 to 69-years-old.

Where vaccine supply is limited, the Expert Committee recommended conducting vaccinations for those aged 70 and above first, followed by individuals aged 60 to 69.

The Expert Committee also recommended that about five per cent of the available vaccine stock at any given point in time be set aside for specific groups of people who are “of critical importance to the functioning of Singapore”.