SINGAPORE: Individuals looking to book their COVID-19 vaccination slots for the Moderna vaccine are likely to face a shorter wait, compared with those opting for the Pfizer-BioNTech jab. Experts CNA spoke have urged residents not to delay getting their vaccinations, saying there is no reason to wait.
This comes a week after the country opened COVID-19 vaccinations to those aged 12 to 39.
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said at a COVID-19 multi-ministry task force press conference last week that those who book appointments at a centre offering the Moderna vaccine would likely get an earlier slot, as younger students are only able to get the Pfizer-BioNTech jab.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved for individuals as young as 12 years old in Singapore, whereas the Moderna vaccine is approved for those aged 18 and above.
A check by CNA at 1pm on Friday (Jun 18) showed that the earliest available slots for vaccines were on Jun 19, and only at community clubs offering the Moderna shots.
In total, 10 community clubs (CCs) in locations such as Buona Vista and the Radin Mas neighbourhood in Bukit Merah were listed as having “more” available slots.
In comparison, the next available slot for the Pfizer vaccine was on Jul 5 at Choa Chu Kang Polyclinic, according to the COVID-19 vaccination appointment booking system.
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Infectious disease experts told CNA that if more people choose to delay their vaccinations, this could potentially hamper the resumption of more social and economic activities.
“Consistently, we’re seeing more people that have not been vaccinated falling sick ... We also see them hospitalised and using up precious hospital resources,” said Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease expert at the Rophi Clinic at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.
“The more cases there are, the less likely we will open up or the more difficult it is to open up,” he added.
READ: Singapore’s COVID-19 vaccination rates ‘not high enough’ to provide sufficient protection: Lawrence Wong
It could also hold Singapore back from meeting its target of vaccinating at least half of its residents fully by August, and at least 75 per cent by October, according to Professor Dale Fisher, a senior consultant at the National University Hospital’s division of infectious disease.
“It’s not going to have a big effect from a public health point of view if it's just a few people, but if it's tens of thousands of people, obviously it'll have an impact,” he said.
The situation may soon improve, with private healthcare institutions now allowed to access and administer the Government's stock of Sinovac COVID-19 vaccines, said experts.
Professor Paul Tambyah, president of the Asia Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infection, said the likelihood is that there will be more than enough supply of vaccines.
This will make it easier to reopen social and economic activities if vaccination rates overall go up with private sector involvement, he said.
PFIZER VS MODERNA
As of Jun 15, more than 4.7 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Singapore. More than 2.7 million people - or about 47 per cent of Singapore's population, have received at least one dose of a vaccine.
Currently, only two vaccines - Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna - have been approved for Singapore’s national vaccination programme. Both use messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, which works by teaching cells to make a protein that can trigger an immune response inside bodies. This is different from traditional vaccines, which put a weakened or inactivated germ into bodies.
In terms of efficacy, both vaccines are similar. The Pfizer vaccine has an efficacy of 95 per cent against COVID-19, while Moderna has a 94 per cent efficacy.
This means that both vaccines should provide the same degree of protection against COVID-19, said Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.
However, Pfizer has been linked with fewer occurrences of mild side effects such as fever and fatigue compared with Moderna, he said.
These are “non-life threatening” side effects that emerge as a consequence of the body responding to the vaccine, he added.
“I emphasize, though, that both vaccines are very safe with very low rates of severe allergic reactions. In fact, Moderna has slightly less than half the risk of severe reactions such as anaphylaxis, so my recommendation is that there is no real need to wait."
READ: More than 30,000 people with history of anaphylaxis will be invited to receive COVID-19 vaccine: Ong Ye Kung
The differences in side effects could be due to the way the vaccines were manufactured or the content of the vaccines, although there has not been enough research on this, according to Dr Leong.
“One noticeable difference is (there is) 30 micrograms in each shot of the Pfizer vaccine, but 100 micrograms in each shot of Moderna vaccine, ” he said.
“So the more there is, potentially, there may be more reaction.”
GET VACCINATED NOW, DON'T WAIT
Experts cautioned against delaying vaccination, citing risks of being infected with COVID-19 and developing serious disease.
On Friday, Mr Ong provided data showing how more cases of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients required supplemental oxygen.
A total of 629 COVID-19 local cases reported since Apr 11 were not fully vaccinated, said Mr Ong. Of those, about 8.6 per cent, or 54 patients, subsequently required supplemental oxygen or were warded in the intensive care unit, he said.
In contrast, only two out of 158 vaccinated COVID-19 patients - about 1.3 per cent - required supplemental oxygen. The two patients had pre-existing conditions, according to Mr Ong.
Prof Fisher said there was “no logic” in delaying vaccinations, particularly if it was due to perceived differences in their side effects or efficacy.
“I presume there are conversations between people and that someone said ‘I had Pfizer and it felt really good’, then other people will say ‘oh, I’ll get Pfizer too’ but there's no logic to that - the data is essentially the same,” he said.
“The reason to not wait ... is because you can get COVID and you can get very sick and you can die.
Even those who are young and healthy should take the opportunity to be vaccinated as early as possible, urged Prof Teo.
“For every additional person that is vaccinated early, it is one fewer person in the community that remains completely susceptible to be infected,” he said.
“Even though vaccination does not completely prevent one from being infected, it does result in asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic infection which is less contagious.”
“So not only is there one fewer person that is completely susceptible, the chance of spreading to others as a result of an infection also reduces,” he added.