SINGAPORE: The interval between the first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will be extended to between six and eight weeks, up from the current three to four weeks.
This was announced by Health Minister Ong Ye Kung at the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force press conference on Tuesday (May 18).
The shift in Singapore’s vaccination strategy to prioritising more people getting the first dose comes two days after the Government said it was studying if it should extend the time between COVID-19 vaccine doses.
"Instead of having a good number of people getting maximum protection. We make sure we get the maximum number of people get good protection," said Mr Ong.
The new interval will apply to people who are registering for their vaccination dates from Wednesday.
Those who already have an appointment for their second dose will not be affected, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a press release.
However, those who would like to volunteer to delay their second dose may call the vaccination call centre to “do another Singaporean a favour”, said Mr Ong.
Explaining how it worked, Mr Ong said that when the demand for the second dose is pushed back, the vaccine dosage for the day is freed up for more people to take their first dose.
If all goes "smoothly" with the new strategy, about 4.7 million individuals in Singapore would have gotten at least the first dose by August, he added.
“This will substantively cover almost all our eligible population,” he said.
Close to two million people have already received at least one dose of the vaccine here so far.
READ: Delaying second COVID-19 vaccine jab could allow more people in Singapore to be protected and save lives, say experts
Co-chair of the task force Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong urged people who have been vaccinated not to be complacent.
"We know that the new strains are more resistant to the vaccines - there is some chance of vaccine breakthrough," said Mr Wong.
A vaccinated person who gets infected may have mild symptoms or be asymptomatic, and if he is not careful, may "go around becoming a carrier and spreading it to others" he said
"Do not be complacent and take all the necessary precautions very seriously," he added.
APPROACH IN CONSULTATION WITH EXPERTS
MOH said that the approach was adopted in consultation with the Expert Committee on COVID-19 Vaccination which had studied scientific evidence globally in clinical trials and real-world roll-out of these vaccines.
The committee is of the view that the maximum interval between the Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna mRNA COVID-19 vaccines being used here could be extended to up to eight weeks to maximise vaccine coverage "without materially impacting the eventual overall immune response, as long as the second dose is eventually administered", MOH said.
“Lengthening the interval to between six to eight weeks will enable us to cover more people with the first dose of the vaccine more quickly, who will then have some protection. This will help protect more Singaporeans and optimise our vaccine supply,” MOH said.
According to data from countries like the United Kingdom, Germany and Israel which have adopted this strategy, the first shot alone provides at least 75 per cent protection.
“Let me assure everyone, the second dose will be given, it’s just that we are pushing it back from three to four weeks to six to eight weeks,” Mr Ong said.
When asked about why the interval is not longer, MOH director of medical services Associate Professor Kenneth Mak said the six to eight week interval allowed for a "good balance between providing more first doses but also making sure that we don't have that second dose kept too long away".
"Those who received their first dose then can still consolidate their immune response with that second dose to amplify the benefit from the first vaccination," he said.
He added that the authorities will reassess as the evidence continues to evolve to decide whether further adjustment of the dosing interval is needed.
HOME VACCINATION TEAMS
MOH said that to facilitate the vaccination of homebound persons who are unable to travel to a vaccination site, it has worked with the Health Promotion Board and Agency for Integrated Care to deploy home vaccination teams, comprising a doctor and a nurse, to vaccinate these persons at their homes.
“Eligible homebound persons receiving home medical, nursing or personal care services will be approached by their current home care service provider to ascertain their interest in getting vaccinated through this service,” MOH said.
Those who have not been contacted can register their interest directly with their current home care service provider, a spokesperson added.
Homebound persons currently not receiving these home care services can appeal for this service by calling the MOH hotline.
“We seek the understanding of the public that this service is strictly meant for persons who are homebound.
"Persons who are not homebound are strongly encouraged to make an appointment to get vaccinated at any of the vaccination sites, when vaccination is offered to them,” MOH said.
Watch the full news conference and subsequent Q&A session with journalists: