SINGAPORE: Singapore is studying if it should change its COVID-19 vaccination strategy to extend the time between vaccine shots to allow more people to get protection from a first dose, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Sunday (May 16).
Given the increasing number of community cases, Mr Ong said experts are studying if Singapore should give as many people as possible one dose of the vaccine first, and delay the second dose. If implemented, this will take place in phase two of the country's vaccination programme.
So far, Singapore has followed the regime recommended by the vaccine manufacturers - two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are given three weeks apart, while the two jabs of the Moderna vaccine are given four weeks apart.
Mr Ong said that the first phase of the vaccination operation has been focused on "those who need it most", including seniors, who are more vulnerable to severe disease, as well as frontline and essential workers.
"For this group, we want to give them the maximum protection, meaning two doses," he said at a media conference by the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force.
"And today, the progress has been good. So one-quarter of our population today is fully vaccinated (with) two doses, one-third has at least one dose."
Singapore is now approaching phase two of its vaccination exercise, said Mr Ong, and the Ministry of Health (MOH) is studying how to proceed.
ONE DOSE CONFERS "GOOD PROTECTION"
One possibility is that Singapore will start to give as many people as possible one dose of the vaccine first, so as to give them some level of protection against COVID-19, said Mr Ong.
Many international studies have shown that one dose of the vaccine confers "good protection", and the period between the two doses can be extended to between six weeks and eight weeks without "materially impacting the efficacy of the vaccine", said Mr Ong.
"Our scientists have been studying this ... and the evidence locally and overseas point towards this," he said.
"So this will also be helpful given our current situation where there are more cases, and this is something we are studying," he added.
Details will be announced when they are ready, he said.
"Rest assured, if we do this, and when we do this, all those who already have your second dose appointment will not be affected," Mr Ong added.
When asked if the pace of vaccination here has been constrained by "tight supplies", Mr Ong said: "If we have a lot of supplies of course we do it faster, but we need to administer doses based on the arrival of the supplies ... the pace is limited by the pace of the supply arriving in Singapore."
Singapore's health authorities are also evaluating the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for younger age groups after it was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for children aged 12 to 15 years.
READ: Education, health ministries 'working out' plans to vaccinate students under 16: Chan Chun Sing
Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said that the education and health ministries are working out plans to vaccinate students under the age of 16 once approval is given in Singapore.
"In the overall review of the vaccination plan for the remaining of our population, we will take into account the prioritisation for this group of people with the rest of the other age groups that may not have been vaccinated yet," said Mr Chan on Sunday.
He added that the "main constraining factor" was the supply of vaccines, and pointed out that Singapore's 40 vaccination centres can each administer up to 2,000 jabs a day.
"Our vaccination capacity is really much higher than our vaccines availability, and we have done this consciously because we know that the vaccines flow will be uneven," he said.
"Our vaccination capacity is always higher than the availability of the vaccine. That, together with our queue management system, gives us the confidence that once the vaccines arrive in Singapore, we can get it into the arms of our people in the shortest time possible."
In an update on Friday, MOH said Singapore has administered more than 3.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. About 1.9 million individuals have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Among them, about 1.3 million have received their second dose.