SINGAPORE: Singapore might have to continue with “further rounds of vaccination even beyond this year”, the co-chair of the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force Lawrence Wong said on Thursday (Apr 22).
“We will have to be confronting not just the virus today but potentially new strains of the virus that may be more infectious and virulent,” he said at a virtual press conference held by the task force.
Mr Wong, who is Education Minister, spoke about booster vaccines amid a global conversation about the need for annual, or even more frequent vaccinations to protect people against COVID-19.
The Health Ministry's director of medical services Kenneth Mak said that at this point in time, there is “quite a bit of thought” that vaccinations should last for at least nine or 12 months, or even longer.
“We believe that it’s going to be much longer than that, perhaps even 15 to 18 months, but beyond that, it’s still a relatively uncertain situation,” he said.
“There are two developments that influence us in our thinking about giving further vaccinations, even to those who have received the first two vaccinations already.”
Just as recovered workers may eventually have a gradually waning immune protection, “this may also apply to those who have been vaccinated”, he said.
“Therefore, as we do tests, following up (on) some of these individuals who have been vaccinated, if we find that their immune level is starting to drift downwards, this would be the right time to then start planning to vaccinate these people as well,” he said.
The other consideration is the viral variants “of concern”, he said.
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Addressing the new COVID-19 virus variants, Associate Professor Mak said that as of Apr 20, Singapore has detected seven local cases of the B117 variant (UK) and one local case of the B1351 variant (South Africa).
Singapore has also detected 342 imported cases with the B117, B1351, P1, P2, P3, B1525 and B1617 variants, said Assoc Prof Mak.
While the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines being used in Singapore currently have shown efficacy against these variants, Assoc Prof Mak warned that this might not be the case for future variants.
And if that were to happen, he said booster vaccine doses may be needed to "augment the immunity" people already have from previous vaccinations.
He said that the Government is studying this “very closely” and has discussed this with counterparts in other countries.
“The manufacturers are looking into this as well, and they hope to produce improved versions of the vaccine that will have enhanced protection, even against these emerging variants of concern,” he said.
Watch the full news conference and Q&A session: