SINGAPORE: Seniors 70 years old and above will receive COVID-19 vaccination letters over the next three weeks, while inoculation for those aged between 60 and 69 will start around end-March, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Friday (Feb 19).
"Beyond the 60 to 69 (age group), then we will probably open up to more groups, and the general public will then be able to get the vaccination, probably sometime after April," said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong during a visit on Friday to a vaccination centre at Jalan Besar Community Centre.
It was announced previously that COVID-19 vaccination for seniors in the community will begin islandwide from Monday, following pilots conducted in Tanjong Pagar and Ang Mo Kio.
More than 5,000 seniors from the two towns have received their vaccinations as of Feb 18.
Singapore began its COVID-19 vaccination exercise on Dec 30, with healthcare workers at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases the first to get the shots.
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As of Thursday, about 250,000 people in Singapore have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, said MOH in a press release. Of those, 110,000 have received the second dose and completed the full vaccination regimen, it said.
By early April, Singapore expects to distribute the first dose of vaccines to another 1 million people, said co-chair of the COVID-19 ministerial task force Lawrence Wong, who was at the vaccination centre with Mr Gan.
This will take the total number of people in Singapore vaccinated against COVID-19 to about 1.25 million people.
Over the next three weeks, those aged 70 and above can expect to receive "personalised letters" inviting them to sign up for vaccinations by the first week of March, said MOH in a press release.
"We will start by inviting seniors living near polyclinics or vaccination centres, so that they can be conveniently vaccinated at a vaccination site near their home," the ministry said.
"By mid-March when we have opened a vaccination centre in each town, all seniors will be able to receive their vaccination," it added.
"We expect all the letters to reach our seniors aged 70 years and above by the first week of March."
Next in line for vaccination will be seniors aged 60 to 69, who will receive their invitation letters around the middle of March. Their vaccination will start from around the end of March.
Seniors will be able to schedule their vaccinations at any of the vaccination centres, 20 polyclinics, or 22 Public Health Preparedness Clinics (PHPCs) operating as vaccination sites.
Those who require assistance booking their vaccination appointments can bring their invitation letter to any community centre, where staff members will be on hand to help them.
"As the letters will be mailed based on official residential addresses, seniors are encouraged to update their residential address using the change of address e-service via the relevant government websites, so that letters will be delivered to their place of residence," said MOH.
PACE OF VACCINATION PROGRAMME "CONTINGENT ON SUPPLY"
Mr Wong told reporters that the pace of Singapore's vaccination programme is "contingent on supply more than anything else".
"That’s not something to be taken for granted," he said.
Mr Wong, who is also Minister for Education, said the supplies of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine faced delays “earlier this year”.
He added that the delays were not “so much because of export restrictions, but because there has been a surge in global demand for these vaccines”, resulting in the company needing more time to ramp up manufacturing capacity.
But with Singapore receiving its first shipment of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine on Feb 17, there are now “some diversification benefits” said Mr Wong.
Another shipment is expected to come in March and with the two shipments, “we expect to be able to distribute the first dose of vaccines to another 1 million persons by around the end of March or early April", he added.
"If all goes according to plan, then we can progressively roll out to the other age groups, beyond March," said Mr Wong.
"We will continue to monitor the supply of vaccine because that's the critical issue that will enable us to get vaccines out ... We will try our best to ensure that we can get these vaccines to Singapore," he added.
The minister said authorities are also continuing to look out for other vaccine options, and will do "everything we can" to vaccinate everyone in Singapore by the end of the year.
Between the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, "there's not much to choose" in terms of its effectiveness, said Mr Wong.
"I think either one is fine ... Some centres will get Pfizer, some centres may get Moderna."
SAFETY PROCESSES IN PLACE
Mr Gan assured residents that there are safety processes in place before and after the inoculation.
"Every one that is being vaccinated has to go through quite a thorough questionnaire to ensure that they do not have a contraindication," said Mr Gan, noting that people are observed for 30 minutes after the vaccination.
"And even at the end of 30 minutes, we don't just let them go. We actually go through another round of questionnaire to make sure that they're all well. We also give them advice, should they have any reaction."
Mr Gan made the comments when asked about the 72-year-old man who suffered a cardiac arrest several hours after getting his first COVID-19 dose.
In announcing the case on Thursday, MOH said there is no indication that the cardiac arrest is due to the vaccination, adding that the man has a history of cancer, hypertension and hyperlipidaemia.
"I have to emphasise that this particular case, based on our investigation is not related to the vaccination," said Mr Gan.
"However, it is important for us to continue to observe and to continue to monitor those who have been vaccinated, to ensure that whoever has an adverse effect, we do want to know about it so that we can collect the data and also refine our criteria for vaccination," he added.
"I want to assure Singaporeans that we do take this very seriously, whether they're related to vaccination or not, we want to know if there are any such incidents so that we can investigate in-depth and better understand the situation."