SINGAPORE: The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has approved the COVID-19 vaccine developed by United States pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German firm BioNTech, with the first shipment due to arrive in Singapore by the end of December, announced Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (Dec 14).
This makes Singapore one of the first countries to obtain this vaccine, he said.
The HSA has studied the scientific evidence and clinical trial data for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, said Mr Lee in a televised address on Singapore’s COVID-19 situation.
Other vaccines are also expected to arrive in Singapore in the coming months, and the country “will have enough vaccines for everyone” by the third quarter of next year if all goes according to plan, he added.
VACCINATIONS FOR ENTIRE ADULT POPULATION
The Ministry of Health has established a committee of doctors and experts to recommend a vaccination strategy, he said.
“The committee has proposed that our entire adult population should be vaccinated, but to make vaccinations voluntary,” said Mr Lee.
Priority will be given to those at greatest risk, such as frontline and healthcare workers, and the elderly and vulnerable.
“Thereafter, the committee proposes to progressively vaccinate the rest of the population, and to cover everyone who wants a vaccination by the end of next year,” he said.
The Government has accepted the committee’s recommendations, said Mr Lee, adding he has “personal confidence” in the experts.
“My Cabinet colleagues and I, including the older ones, will be getting ourselves vaccinated early. This is to show you, especially seniors like me, that we believe the vaccines are safe,” he said.
Vaccinations will be free for all Singaporeans as well as long-term residents currently in Singapore, he added.
“I strongly encourage you to get vaccinated too, when the vaccine is offered to you. Because when you get yourself vaccinated, you are not just protecting yourself. You are also doing your part to protect others, especially your loved ones,” said Mr Lee.
“The more of us are vaccinated, the harder it will be for the virus to spread, and the safer we will all be as a society.”
HSA said separately that interim authorisation was granted after data submitted by Pfizer-BioNTech was assessed to demonstrate that the vaccine meets the required safety, efficacy and quality standards, and that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the known risks.
Two doses are required to be administered 21 days apart, in people aged 16 years and above, according to the vaccination regime submitted by Pfizer-BioNTech.
Pfizer Singapore and BioNTech said in a press release on Monday evening that it will deliver doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to Singapore through 2021, following emergency use authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and interim authorisation for pandemic supply from HSA.
The volume of doses and financial details of the agreement were not disclosed.
READ: Social gatherings of up to 8 people allowed come Dec 28, further reopening of activities in the community in Phase 3
“MULTIPLE BETS” PLACED
The Government had been “working quietly” behind the scenes since early on in the coronavirus pandemic to secure access to vaccines, said Mr Lee.
He added that this “was not a simple exercise” as there were more than 200 possible vaccines being developed.
“We started talking to the pharmaceutical companies early to understand the science, and identify the promising candidates and the vaccines likely to come to production sooner,” he said.
The Government placed “multiple bets” to sign advance purchase agreements and make early down payments for the most promising candidates, including with Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Sinovac, said Mr Lee, noting that more than S$1 billion had been set aside for these efforts.
“We made arrangements with pharmaceutical companies to facilitate their clinical trials and drug development in Singapore, and attracted a few to establish vaccine manufacturing capabilities here,” he said.
Local efforts to develop a vaccine were also supported, he noted.
This not only gave Singapore’s scientists and researchers the opportunity to do cutting-edge work but also acted as insurance, in case the global supply chain was disrupted, Mr Lee said.
“This way, we built up a diversified portfolio of options, to ensure that Singapore would be near the front of the queue for vaccines, and not last in line,” he said.
Securing early access to vaccines was a whole-of-government effort, with many agencies and public officers involved in this “critical mission”, he said.
“I commend them for their good work. They are among the legion of unsung heroes who have helped us get through this crisis,” he added.
VACCINES WILL SUPPORT SINGAPORE’S RECOVERY
Mr Lee said in his speech that COVID-19 vaccines will support Singapore’s recovery in more ways than one, noting that as a global aviation hub, the country plays a crucial role transporting vaccines around the world.
Vaccines require cold chain management, with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine needing to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, he noted.
“This requires infrastructure, high standards, skilled personnel, and good connectivity to many different countries and all along the supply chain. Fortunately, Singapore has a strong ecosystem for cargo handling,” he added.
He noted that international logistic companies such as DHL and FedEx have bases here, while Singapore Airlines and Changi Airport’s ground handling partners are certified by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to handle and transport pharmaceutical supplies.
“We are now gearing ourselves up to handle large volumes of vaccine shipments into and through Singapore, to help win the global fight against COVID-19,” said Mr Lee.
“We did not get here overnight. We have always planned ahead, systematically creating opportunities for ourselves. It took us years of investment and planning, building a business-friendly climate and expanding our air links around the world, he said.
“These long-term investments are now paying dividends,” he said.