Survey reveals COVID-19 vaccination complacency among Singapore public, doctors say relaxed attitude worrying
Even among those in the higher risk groups, a majority no longer views COVID-19 as a major threat, the survey showed.
SINGAPORE: An increasingly complacent attitude displayed by Singapore residents towards COVID-19 is “worrying”, said doctors, as new survey results showed most people no longer see the virus as a threat.
About 87 per cent of those surveyed believe that COVID-19 does not pose a high risk to their health, while more than 35 per cent indicated they do not plan to take additional booster vaccinations in the future.
This is despite 38 per cent of respondents agreeing that there is enough data to support the need for boosters.
The survey, commissioned by Moderna Biotech Singapore and the Asia Pacific Immunization Coalition (APIC), polled 1,219 adults on their attitudes, knowledge and behaviours around COVID-19.
“(The number of) individuals saying they are not going to get vaccinated against COVID anymore is kind of alarming,” said Dr Ong Kian Chung, president of Singapore’s Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Association.
“Because we’re dealing with a virus that is still causing a lot of trouble here and elsewhere, we should get ourselves protected, especially (since) we’ve opened up the economy and people are travelling.”
Similarly, APIC co-chair Tikki Pangestu voiced dismay at the response, saying the survey results showed a sense of complacency among residents. He urged the public to stay updated with their vaccinations, even as Singapore treats the virus as endemic.
“There is a misperception about the word ‘endemic’. Shifting from pandemic to endemic … it’s really just changing the label. Endemic doesn't mean low risk,” he said.
“Endemic means the virus is still there. And amongst the vulnerable, it can still cause severe (illness), and even deaths.”
Even among those in the higher-risk groups, a majority no longer views COVID-19 as a major threat, the survey showed.
The poll included participants from medically vulnerable populations, including those with diabetes, heart conditions and chronic lung conditions. About 77 per cent of these respondents said they do not believe the virus poses a high risk to their health. Almost 30 per cent do not intend to take further booster shots.
Among those surveyed who were aged 60 and above, about 85 per cent do not view the virus as high risk and over 37 per cent have no plans to keep up with their vaccinations.
Medical experts have warned that the elderly, the immunocompromised or those with concurrent medical conditions are more susceptible and have an increased likelihood of suffering from severe infections.
“It is worrying that (these groups) don't think it's high risk, and quite a few are not willing to take the boosters,” said Prof Pangestu.
“The role of vaccines is really to give overall protection to the population at large. A high vaccination coverage means fewer people, especially amongst the vulnerable, will end up in hospital.”
For instance, those with respiratory conditions such as COPD, a common lung disease that causes restricted airflow and breathing problems, are four times more at risk of hospitalisation if they contract COVID-19, said Dr Ong.
Prof Pangestu added that a high vaccination coverage reduces the spread of the virus and the possibility of the emergence of new variants. He highlighted that a drop in booster rates across the globe is likely linked to the current wave of COVID-19 infections, as well as the new Arcturus subvariant.
VACCINE BENEFITS OUTWEIGH RISKS
The survey shed some light on why some might be hesitant to continue with booster vaccines.
More than half of respondents stated they fear the potential health complications and side effects caused by the jabs more than contracting the virus itself.
In the above-60 age group in particular, more than 60 per cent indicated they have reservations.
However, experts said severe side effects from vaccines remain rare, and benefits still far outweigh the risks.
“The risks of the COVID-19 vaccines are much lesser than the complications that one can develop from the disease itself,” said Dr Ong.
“It is logical and backed by scientific reasons for us to get vaccinated so that the majority of the population is immune to COVID-19. That's the best way of dealing with the pandemic.”
The reporting rates of adverse effects and serious adverse effects for mRNA vaccines in Singapore remain rare, at 0.11 per cent and 0.007 per cent respectively, according to numbers from the Health Sciences Authority (HSA).
MAJORITY SAYS VACCINES WORK
There were two positive findings from the survey, said Prof Pangestu.
The first, a majority of respondents – more than 55 per cent – believed the COVID-19 vaccination is “the best way to protect myself from the virus”.
“The second was that the people trusted the government. To me, that's the foundation of Singapore’s success in dealing with the pandemic,” the infectious disease specialist said.
He added that the government is continuing to put in measures to advocate, educate and communicate with the public and vulnerable groups about the importance of vaccines.
Ms Evelyn Pang, Moderna Biotech Singapore’s general manager, said that one way to encourage vaccination uptakes would be coming up with a combination vaccine that covers more than just COVID-19.
She told CNA's Singapore Tonight on Tuesday (Apr 25) that the firm is looking at the possibility of a vaccine cocktail that could potentially target the coronavirus, respiratory syncytial virus, and influenza.
“Once we have proven the efficacy and safety, we would be able to use technology to combine all of these together, depending on the public health needs of a nation,” she said.