SINGAPORE: When Secondary 4 student Salwa Taib Ali first heard about the COVID-19 vaccination exercise for students aged 12 and above, she immediately told her parents that she would like to sign up for it.
“I was really excited because I would be able to play my part in ensuring that the COVID-19 situation in Singapore does not ... deteriorate,” she told CNA.
The Ngee Ann Secondary School student was among the first students aged 12 and above to receive a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday (Jun 3). Bookings for vaccination slots opened on Tuesday.
“I was also really happy, especially because I’m taking my O-Levels this year. I was pretty stressed out because I was really scared I would contract COVID-19, or any of my friends or peers would contract COVID-19,” said 15-year-old Salwa.
“So when the vaccination (exercise) was announced, and students were allowed to take it, I was really excited and the first thing I did was to tell my parents to book me for the first slot available.”
READ: More than 400,000 students aged 12 and above to receive COVID-19 vaccination invite from Jun 1
The Ministry of Education (MOE) announced on May 31 that more than 400,000 students would be progressively invited to register for vaccinations from Jun 1, after the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was approved in May by the Health Sciences Authority for those aged 12 to 15 years.
The invites were first sent out to students or parents of students in graduating cohorts from secondary schools and at pre-university levels, or students sitting for the GCE N-, O- or A-Level examinations later this year.
In a Facebook post on Thursday evening, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said more than 9,000 students have "booked appointments to receive the first dose of vaccination against COVID-19 today".
"I am heartened by the positive response that we have received thus far, and the high sign-up rate. As we battle the evolving challenges from the pandemic, vaccination remains the best way to keep our students and children safe," he said, adding that eligible students will be notified via SMS invitations until Jun 13.
Mr Chan also urged parents to sign their child up for vaccination when they receive the invite.
Secondary 5 student Philicia Geow was one of those who received an invite to register for vaccination.
“Being in the graduating cohort this year, we’re doing our national exams soon, and being able to have the priority this time instead of having to get our vaccinations during our national exams is something that I’m pretty grateful for,” said Philicia.
The CHIJ Katong Convent student has three siblings, two of whom are also in the age range to receive jabs as part of the vaccination exercise for students. Philicia will receive her first dose on Monday at a community centre near her home.
“I’m looking forward to, hopefully, the restrictions getting more lenient ... I feel like this vaccination is a big milestone for not only our country but for the whole world as well,” she said.
“I'm really looking forward to the entire world, or even just our country, being able to overcome this challenge of the pandemic, because I'm really looking forward to being able to just go out without wearing a mask and being able to meet people again.”
"REALLY FAST, PROMPT AND EASY"
Speaking to CNA hours after receiving her jab, Salwa said the injection went “way better than expected”, and that the process was “really fast, prompt and easy”. She did not experience any side effects shortly after the jab.
Adding that she is looking forward to returning to school for face-to-face classes when more students are vaccinated, she said: “With the increasing number of people taking vaccines, I hope that (we can have) more face-to-face lessons, which will also help.”
She also hopes to resume PE classes and other mass school activities, which had to be cancelled due to the rising number of COVID-19 community cases.
“Many of these are things that my friends and I like to do together. So I hope that with the increased number of students and my friends taking the vaccine, I hope that we’ll be able to resume these activities once again.”
Over the next two weeks, the remaining full-time students in schools and institutes of higher learning will receive invitations to register for vaccinations, said the Education Ministry.
These include privately-funded schools, madrasahs and special education schools, said MOE on May 31. Privately-funded schools comprise Anglo-Chinese School (International), St Joseph's Institution International High School and Hwa Chong International School.
Students who are enrolled in private education institutions, such as international schools, can register as part of the national vaccination exercise, which is separate from the one for students, said MOE in response to CNA queries. Children who are home schooled can also register as part of the national vaccination exercise.
“If supplies continue to arrive as scheduled, the national vaccination exercise will be rolled out to the rest of the age-eligible population by mid-June 2021, starting with Singapore citizens," added the Education Ministry.
Students below 18 years old will only be offered the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, while those aged 18 and above can opt for either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. The interval between the first and second dose will be six to eight weeks.
The Education Ministry said it has conducted two webinars to address parents’ concerns and queries about the safety of the vaccines.
“Our schools will also work closely with parents to encourage students and their parents to sign-up for the vaccination. Parents should also consult their family doctors if they have questions pertaining to the suitability of the vaccination for their children,” the ministry added.
Eligible students can get vaccinated at community vaccination centres. There will also be four dedicated MOE vaccination centres set up at Raffles City Convention Centre, ITE College Central, ITE College East and ITE College West, said MOE.
Each ITE centre will have up to 1,600 vaccination slots per day, which is "comparable" to the number of slots at community vaccination centres, while Raffles Convention Centre will have up to 2,000 slots per day, the ministry added.
The vaccination exercise for students is expected to be completed by August, MOE said on May 31.
Hearing that students her age would be able to register to get vaccinated was a “pleasant surprise”, said Secondary 4 student Julia Ho, adding that she had expected those in her age group to be among the last to get vaccinated.
Seeing the increasing number of COVID-19 infections involving students over the past few weeks was “slightly worrying”, said the Nanyang Girls’ High School student. She will be getting her first dose of the vaccine on Monday.
“The first thought that really came to me at that point in time was that if the majority of us in schools get vaccinated, then I think it would definitely create a much safer environment for all of us ... where we can learn in peace without having to worry as much about the virus spreading among us in schools,” she said.
“I think it really brings this sense of hope that we can resume to what school was like two years ago – where we could have things such as mass assemblies, mass celebrations like Chinese New Year celebrations or Teachers’ Day in person as a school – which I think really adds that human touch to the school experience.”