SINGAPORE: COVID-19 vaccination for seniors aged 70 and above began across Singapore on Monday (Feb 22).
This follows a pilot conducted in Tanjong Pagar and Ang Mo Kio that started end-January. More than 5,000 seniors from the two towns have received their vaccinations as of Feb 18, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said last week.
Seniors are at higher risk of severe disease or complications from COVID-19 infection, and have been prioritised for vaccination, said MOH on Feb 19.
"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," it added.
On Monday, CNA visited a vaccination centre run by Thomson Medical at Senja-Cashew Community Centre in Bukit Panjang.
There were clear signs to lead people to the vaccination centre set up in a multi-purpose hall, and 16 booths put up for vaccinations. There was also an area for those who have just been given a jab to be observed, before being allowed to leave.
Chief executive of Thomson Medical's Specialist Centres Chan Wei Ling said that the one-week timeline to set up the centre was "tight", but that it was manageable with help.
"MOH provided us very close guidance, helped us, facilitated site visits to vaccination centres that are already running so that we can better understand the workflow," she said, adding that the People’s Association helped with logistics.
Each vaccination centre will be able to inoculate 2,000 people a dayand the centre will run for the next six months, or longer if need be, she said.
As the vaccination can only be done by booking a slot in advance, there are booths set up by the PA at the vaccination centres to help with this, she said.
When asked about how they avoid wastage of vaccines, which cannot stay out at room temperature for too long after being thawed, she said: “Although we may have 1,000 people booked for the day, we have to watch the crowd, ensure that people are here first before we prepare the vaccine. Otherwise, there’ll be wastage,” she said.
Thomson Medical, which runs another vaccination centre at Bishan Community Centre, is prepared to handle seniors who have an adverse reaction to the vaccination, she added.
DEALING WITH ADVERSE REACTIONS
“We have a doctor on site, and all the equipment ready, medication ready, to deal with severe reactions,” Ms Chan said. For more severe cases, the doctor will stabilise the patient and an ambulance will be called.
Dr Lin Zhi Yong, the doctor on site, said that there are "screeners" who have been taught to ask questions about seniors' use of blood-thinning medication, drug allergies and food allergies, as well as past medical problems.
“If they (the seniors) are unsure, they (the screeners) can refer it to me. We can check from the National Electronic Health Record (NEHR). The NEHR is linked to all the Government hospitals, so most residents will have records there already," he said.
Some patients also bring along with them their latest blood test reports and medication lists, he said.
“There may be some cases we have assessed they are not suitable, mainly from severe allergic reaction, or they are on blood-thinning medication that causes their platelet level to be too low, or they have some active cancer that is on current chemotherapy treatment,” he said.
For these seniors, they would tell them that "the risk for them to take the vaccination is higher than the benefit" and advise them not to be vaccinated.
“Meanwhile, (we tell them) to wear masks, practise hand hygiene, encourage those around them to get the vaccination done, because if most people get the vaccination, even though they (the seniors) are not vaccinated, there will herd immunity,” he said.
As of about 3pm on Monday, fewer than five seniors at the centre had been assessed to be unsuitable, “mainly from more severe drug allergy reaction”, Dr Lin said.
Among those who did get their vaccination was 74-year-old Ng Sam Mui. Madam Ng, who went for her vaccination with her husband, lives near the community centre. She said her son took them to the vaccination centre.
Madam Ng, who spoke to CNA during the 30-minute observation period, said that she was feeling normal after the vaccination.
“I know (in case) infect already, it’s better for us, it’s safe. We have to take care of ourselves," she said.
Mr Tan Hong San also got his first dose of the vaccine.
"When I was young I was vaccinated against smallpox. I think it's an indication that it's something good – vaccination to prevent getting infected. It's our way of overcoming the disease," he said.
Vaccination for seniors aged between 60 and 69 will start from end-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.