SINGAPORE: As of May 9, about 1.8 million people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 1.2 million of them receiving their second dose, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong in Parliament on Tuesday (May 11).
In a ministerial statement on the whole-of-government response to COVID-19, Mr Gan noted that Singapore continues to make "steady progress" with its vaccination programme and that the take-up has been "encouraging".
He pointed out that about two-thirds of eligible people aged 45 and above have received the COVID-19 vaccination or booked their vaccination appointments.
"However, we need to continue to encourage more to be vaccinated - especially among the seniors - as given their age, they are the most vulnerable. I urge all of us to encourage our elderly family members too," said Mr Gan, who is also co-chair of the multi-ministry task force on COVID-19.
"We will be inviting subsequent age bands to receive vaccinations from the later part of May. However, as vaccine supplies continue to be limited, vaccinations will be progressively extended in smaller age-bands. We thank everyone for your patience. And if vaccine supplies arrive as scheduled, we will complete the vaccination programme by the end of this year."
BENEFITS OUTWEIGHING RISKS
Mr Gan also noted that the benefits of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines continue to outweigh the known risks and that there remains a need to encourage Singaporeans to be vaccinated.
As of Monday, 30 local fully vaccinated cases tested positive for COVID-19, noted Mr Gan. There were another 24 imported cases that were already vaccinated.
"Most of our local cases of infected vaccinated individuals were asymptomatic. None had severe COVID-19 disease requiring more intensive care," said Mr Gan.
"This is consistent with the international experience and emerging evidence that vaccines are highly efficacious in protecting against severe COVID-19 disease and likely to reduce the risk of transmission."
When it comes to re-infected cases, as of Monday, 26 cases have been assessed to be re-infections, revealed Mr Gan.
"We are still investigating whether these are due to general waning of immunity over time or the lack of cross-protection against specific variants of COVID-19 that the individual is naive to. We will provide an update when we know more," he said.
Mr Gan also responded to questions from Members of Parliament on vaccinations for children below 16; those with mild allergic reactions; and the need for a third booster shot.
He noted that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are currently only approved for use in people aged 16 and 18 years old and above respectively.
“Initial data provided by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna at the time of the pandemic special access route (PSAR) interim authorisation did not include data regarding their use in younger populations,” he said.
“The Health Sciences Authority has been examining the supplemental data that have since been submitted for the Pfizer vaccine, to assess if the vaccine meets safety and efficacy requirements for authorisation under PSAR for use in adolescents aged 12 to 15 years. HSA will also do so for (the) Moderna vaccine when data is submitted to them. We will share more details when ready.”
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Mr Gan noted that those assessed by a doctor to be allergic to the first dose of COVID-19 vaccination are currently “contraindicated” from the vaccine and should not continue with the second dose.
When it comes to booster shots, Mr Gan said data on the need for it is still emerging, from both international and local studies.
He said: “We will share more when we know more. Meanwhile, get the first two shots first.”
As of May 3, 104 applications for the vaccine injury financial assistance programme have been received, said Mr Gan. Thirty of them have been assessed to meet the qualifying criteria, he added.
This includes 21 cases of hypersensitivity, or allergic reactions, four neurology-related cases, three cardiology-related cases, and one haematology and dermatology-related case each.
All of these cases have since been discharged from hospital, and the remaining 29 applications are pending, said the Health Minister.
Mr Gan also responded to questions about whether Singapore will recognise overseas vaccinations that are not approved by HSA.
Singapore is in discussion with several regions on mutual recognition of vaccination certificates for travel purposes, he said, reiterating Minister for Transport Ong Ye Kung. Details will be released when the arrangements are confirmed, Mr Gan added.
Responding to questions about Sinovac and other vaccine candidates, Mr Gan said that Singapore had entered into advance purchase agreements with Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Sinovac last year, even before the clinical trials were completed.
This was to “secure a diversified vaccine portfolio to improve our chances” of securing a suitable vaccine that is safe and effective for the population, he added.
“This was how we managed to start our vaccination drive with Pfizer and Moderna vaccines early.”
Singapore took the delivery of a shipment of the Sinovac vaccines based on the schedules that had been planned for and committed under the advance purchase agreement with the company, said Mr Gan.
“HSA is currently carefully evaluating Sinovac and a few other vaccines for use in Singapore, and we will update the public when we have made progress,” he added
Mr Gan noted that there has also been “vaccine misinformation”, and said that the Government aims to curb its spread.
Responding to a question from the Leader of Opposition Pritam Singh, who had asked how the Government will address this, Mr Gan said that public education remains a “cornerstone” of the vaccination programme.
“Government agencies have been using multiple platforms including print and broadcast media, social media, direct messaging platforms, and Gov.sg to communicate essential information about the COVID-19, including its vaccines to all segments of society,” he added.
He noted that when called for, the Government would not hesitate to use “legislative levers” such as POFMA Correction Directions to stop individuals from spreading misinformation and “fear-mongering”.
Said Mr Gan: “All of us have a role to play in stemming the spread of misinformation. Once again, I urge everyone to check that the information they receive comes from reliable sources and to make the effort to verify before sharing them.”
Watch Mr Gan's full ministerial statement:
Additional reporting by Ang Hwee Min.