Seniors in Singapore’s Ang Mo Kio, Tanjong Pagar to get Covid-19 vaccine from Jan 27; other seniors to follow from mid-Feb

Vaccinations will be extended progressively to seniors islandwide from the middle of February, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said. ― TODAY pic
Vaccinations will be extended progressively to seniors islandwide from the middle of February, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said. ― TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, Jan 23 — The Covid-19 vaccination exercise for seniors will kick off in Singapore next Wednesday (January 27) with pilots in Ang Mo Kio and Tanjong Pagar, where larger numbers of seniors live.

Vaccinations will be extended progressively to seniors islandwide from the middle of next month, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong announced yesterday at a press conference by the governmental task force overseeing Singapore’s pandemic response.

Gan said that the pilots would begin “cautiously”, covering 5,000 to 10,000 seniors in each of the two housing estates. The figures may be raised or reduced, depending on the response. 

The Ministry of Health (MoH) said that the pilots would enable the authorities to iron out the operational processes before scaling up the vaccination effort nationwide.

Gan, who co-chairs the task force with Education Minister Lawrence Wong, said that there would be delays to a scheduled shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the only one approved here so far, because of upgrading work at American firm Pfizer’s manufacturing plant.

Despite the delays, it is still scheduled to arrive in time for Singapore’s “vaccination programme roll-out plan”, Gan said, noting that this is the first such hold-up.

MoH gave the assurance, though, that the government would continue to monitor supplies closely to ensure that there are enough doses of the vaccine for Singaporeans and long-term residents by the third quarter of this year.

In the meantime, more vaccination centres will be set up in the next few weeks to ensure that all seniors receive their vaccinations at a centre near their homes. The centres will be in highly populated catchment areas or along public transport routes for greater accessibility.

Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, MoH’s director of medical services, said that some seniors could have mobility issues and other medical conditions requiring much more attention. The pilots will allow the authorities to work out processes to ensure that all seniors receive the vaccines safely. 

“Once we are confident that the processes are tweaked and optimised, and we are confident that we can look after our seniors properly, we are going to roll this out — opening up new centres, scaling up the capacity for vaccinations with each centre, and then increasing the throughput of vaccinations for seniors in all the centres,” he said.

Gan said that the pilots would also allow the government to test its outreach to the community, given the challenges in reaching out to seniors, many of whom are staying home because of the pandemic. 

All seniors will receive personalised letters inviting them to make an appointment to receive their vaccinations.

They will be able to book appointments online or at selected community centres near them.

MoH said that community volunteers from the People’s Association and Silver Generation ambassadors would visit the homes of seniors and tap grassroots events to answer questions from elderly persons and, if necessary, help them book an appointment.

Seniors will also be provided with information sheets with more details about the vaccine and the vaccination process.

More than 60,000 have recveived first jab

In an update on the nationwide effort to vaccinate the population against the coronavirus, MoH said that more than 60,000 people have received the first dose of the vaccine since the exercise began on December 30 last year.

Those already inoculated against the coronavirus include employees working in healthcare, nursing home, front-line and essential services, as well as seniors in nursing homes.

Thirty-nine staff members from the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), which is at the forefront of the fight against the virus, have received the second dose of the vaccine and have thus completed the full vaccination regimen.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is administered in two doses 21 days apart.In two weeks, these staff members from NCID would have built up maximum protection against the disease, MoH said.

 “These numbers are expected to rise substantially in the coming weeks as we continue to ramp up our vaccination operations safely,” it added.

Asked about the side effects from the vaccine seen here so far, Assoc Prof Mak said that the authorities had received some reports on adverse events and were compiling and submitting these to an expert panel for reviews and recommendations. 

While he did not go into detail about these adverse events, he said that most of those reported in countries where vaccinations are underway were very mild. These include pain, redness and soreness of the muscles at the site of the jabs, fever and fatigue.  

“Many of these symptoms... reflect the body's immune system responding to the vaccine dose that has been injected in them and there will be some people who may have more serious side effects, which include allergic reactions of a variety of... grades of severity,” he said. 

The government will provide an update once the information is categorised. 

 ‘Very close’ to decision on another vaccine

Apart from the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, Singapore has made advance purchases of vaccines from American company Moderna and China’s Sinovac, which the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) is reviewing. 

Asked for an update on the reviews, Assoc Prof Mak said that the authorities expect to make a decision soon on one of the vaccines, but did not specify which one. 

For the other, they are still seeking clarification and further details from the vaccine manufacturer, he added. 

“We are very close to coming to a decision for the next vaccine and we will make the relevant announcements as HSA makes that approval known to us.”

Right now, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is free for citizens, permanent residents and long-term residents, which total about 5.7 million people.

Long-term residents include those holding an employment pass, S Pass or work permit, foreign domestic workers, as well as holders of dependant’s passes, long-term visit passes and student passes. They do not include short-term visit pass holders and tourists. ― TODAY

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