SINGAPORE: The Government plans to begin inviting people under the age of 45 to book slots for their COVID-19 vaccination from June, Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary said in Parliament on Monday (Apr 5).
This is based on the current schedule, he said. “If all goes well, we will complete the vaccination programme as scheduled by the end of the year.”
Dr Puthucheary said that Singapore continues to make “steady progress” with its vaccination programme. However, he said that Singapore’s supply of vaccines remains limited by the ability of vaccine manufacturers to deliver, given the high levels of global demand.
“This has resulted in limited booking slots in recent days. I apologise for the inconvenience caused to those who have not been able to book earlier. As more supplies arrive, we will progressively open more slots,” he said.
Dr Puthucheary was responding to Members of Parliament who had asked questions on the COVID-19 vaccination programme, including the number of people vaccinated, measures to minimise vaccine wastage and the priority given to certain groups.
As of Apr 3, about 1.52 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered, he said. More than 1 million people have received at least one dose, and of these, more than 468,000 have received their second dose and completed the full vaccination regimen.
Dr Puthucheary added that by mid-April, there will be more than 40 vaccination centres islandwide, up from the current 31.
Since invitations for vaccination was extended to Singapore citizens and residents aged 45 to 59 about a week ago, close to 500,000, or about half of the group, have registered, he said.
Those who have registered will progressively receive invitations through SMS to make appointments for their vaccination, he said.
“This may take some time given the number who have registered,” he said, adding that to date, about 17 per cent of eligible individuals have received the vaccination or booked their appointments.
The rest can expect to receive the SMS by the middle of May and a booking slot by early June, he said.
To date, 60 per cent of eligible seniors aged 70 and above, and close to 70 per cent of eligible seniors aged 60 to 69 have received the COVID-19 vaccination or booked their vaccination appointments, he said.
MP Sylvia Lim (WP-Aljunied) also asked whether there has been a change in advice given to people initially considered ineligible for the vaccination, and whether Singapore is "catching up" with those initially considered ineligible.
Dr Puthucheary said in response that the advice has "shifted".
"It is severe anaphylactic reactions that we are most concerned about and as an increasing number of people have been vaccinated, we have confidence over the situations in which someone previously thought to be ineligible might now go forward and have the vaccine," he said.
Online systems and the ministry's guidance to people manning counters and hotlines have also changed, he said.
READ: MOH updates COVID-19 vaccination guidelines; those with multiple allergies without anaphylaxis can now receive jabs
He added: "The way in which we are catching up is that the citizens involved remain as ... patients of the healthcare providers. The vaccine system will continue to track process."
"If there are individuals who have been deemed ineligible, I would reinforce that this is about deferring the appointment and the consultation to a time where perhaps they might subsequently become eligible and we will continue to pay close attention to this segment of the population."
PRIORITY FOR CERTAIN GROUPS
Dr Puthucheary also said that Singapore has had to prioritise vaccinations, starting with healthcare workers, vulnerable elderly, and those involved in COVID-19 operations.
The Expert Committee on COVID-19 Vaccination had also recommended that Singapore prioritise those job roles that are of critical importance to the functioning of the country and are at higher risk of exposure to and onward transmission of COVID-19.
“This is critical to ensure that key sectors would be able to continue functioning effectively even during a local outbreak, and further reduce risks to our vulnerable populations and the community at large,” he said.
Such personnel include those involved in safeguarding the country’s borders and maintaining law and order and those involved in the provision of utilities such as water, energy and telecommunications services.
READ: Singapore needs to keep up COVID-19 safe measures until more people are vaccinated: Chief health scientist
Religious workers might also face potential risks as they may engage in regular and non-transient contact with worshipers and devotees, including the elderly and vulnerable, he said.
On the issue of vaccine wastage, Dr Puthucheary said close to 98 per cent of those who booked appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations in the last 30 days showed up for their appointments.
“We estimate that about 1 per cent of those who turned up were rejected because of concerns about allergies and contraindications. We encourage everyone to be vaccinated when your turn comes, and to turn up at the vaccination appointments that you have made so that you do not deny another person of the opportunity,” he said.
"However, such cases do not result in vaccine wastage.”
He said the ministry closely monitors appointment bookings and historical take-up rate, and delivers the appropriate number of vaccine doses to the vaccination sites.
Unopened vials can be stored at the vaccination sites for at least three days, and vaccination site providers will start a new vial only when they have checked that there are individuals awaiting vaccination, to avoid vaccine wastage.
"At the end of the day, to utilise any balance remaining in a multi-dose vial and further minimise wastage, there are pre-planned lists of individuals who will be invited to be vaccinated," he said.
These individuals could be "staff who are working at the vaccination sites", or "frontline volunteers who have an active role in engaging seniors on vaccinations".
The Health Ministry will also be conducting further studies to monitor and review the extent and duration of immunity provided by the COVID-19 vaccines, he added. This includes collecting selected post-vaccination samples from groups such as healthcare workers, frontline staff and seniors, to monitor the persistence of antibodies up to two years.
“Vaccination is a key enabler to reduce the risk of community transmission and allow more economic and community activities to resume. As more vaccine stocks arrive, we will continue to expand our vaccination programme to more segments of the population, so that all Singaporeans and long-term residents in Singapore will have the chance to be vaccinated by end-2021,” he said.