More than 155,000 in Singapore have received first dose of Covid-19 vaccine; four had severe allergic reactions, says senior minister

More than 155,000 people have received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Singapore. — Reuters pic
More than 155,000 people have received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Singapore. — Reuters pic

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SINGAPORE, Feb 1 — About a month after Singapore began its Covid-19 vaccination exercise, more than 155,000 people have received their first dose of the vaccine. Four of them experienced anaphylaxis, the rapid onset of severe allergic reactions.

Giving this update in Parliament today, Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary said that the four who suffered from anaphylaxis are in their 20s and 30s, and have recovered from the episode.

They developed multiple symptoms, such as rash, breathlessness, lip swelling, throat tightness and giddiness.

None had to be admitted to the intensive care unit, he added. One of them was observed for a few hours, while the others were discharged from hospital after a day’s observation or treatment.

This was because anaphylaxis can be controlled when detected and treated in a timely manner, said Dr Puthucheary. 

“As all vaccinated persons in Singapore are closely monitored, the symptoms in these four individuals were promptly detected and treated.”Three of them had a history of allergies, including allergic rhinitis (an inflammation of the nose due to allergens in the air) and allergies to food such as shellfish. None had a history of anaphylaxis, though, because this would have precluded them from receiving the vaccine.

The incidence rate of anaphylaxis here is now about 2.6 for every 100,000 doses administered, down from about 2.7 per 100,000 doses announced previously. The incidence rates reported abroad are about one to two per 100,000 doses administered. Variations in the incidence rate are to be expected initially, because the number of people vaccinated in Singapore so far is still fairly small.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is given in two doses 21 days apart.

Despite some adverse reactions reported, Dr Puthucheary said that the benefits of getting vaccinated against Covid-19 and its complications far outweigh the risk of potential adverse events known to be associated with vaccination.

Dr Puthucheary was responding to 13 Members of Parliament (MPs) who sought details about the progress of the national vaccination programme since it began on December 30 and the side effects reported so far. They also asked if priority could be given to those intending to go overseas, including Singaporean students hoping to study abroad. 

Hold-ups in vaccine supply

Asked whether prospective travellers could be prioritised for vaccination, Dr Puthucheary said that the government understood the anxiety of some Singaporeans who wish to travel overseas for various reasons and would like to get vaccinated early.

But it is unable to provide them with vaccines right now because there is a short-term vaccine supply crunch globally. American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which produces the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the only one approved here so far, is upgrading its manufacturing plant, he said.

Therefore, there will be some delays to the shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, and the government is monitoring its supplies closely to meet its target of vaccinating all Singaporeans and long-term residents by the end of this year.

Reiterating that priority must be given to healthcare and front-line workers as well as seniors, he said that the Ministry of Health (MOH) would consider allowing prospective travellers to be vaccinated when there is greater certainty to the vaccine supply. Details will be announced when the time comes, he said.

Sylvia Lim of the Workers’ Party (WP), an MP for Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC), asked Dr Puthucheary to clarify whether the government’s timetable to vaccinate people here had changed, given that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said that there would be enough vaccines for everyone by the third quarter of this year.

In response, Dr Puthucheary said that the government has the capacity and capability to vaccinate the population by the third quarter, but there is uncertainty over uptake.

The government is thus aiming for vaccination to be completed between the end of the third quarter and the end of the year, he said.

“Ultimately, the outcome would be determined by a combination of our supply as well as the willingness and engagement of Singaporeans and long-term residents to go forward to have the vaccination.” 

The government plans to set up about 40 vaccination centres, each with an estimated capacity of about 2,000 vaccinations daily. This is on top of vaccination operations at all 20 polyclinics and selected public health preparedness clinics.

To Aljunied GRC MP Leon Perera’s question about when migrant workers are set to be inoculated against Covid-19, Second Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng said that the group would be prioritised for vaccinations because their communal living and working conditions could lead to the formation of large clusters if an infection spreads.

He said that the Ministry of Manpower is working with MOH to draw up a timetable, which would also hinge on the delivery schedule of the vaccines. 

Not reviewing vaccination strategy for seniors

Meanwhile, Dr Puthucheary said that the government would not be reviewing its vaccination strategy for seniors, despite reports that more than 30 sickly seniors aged 75 and older in Norway had died after getting the Pfizer-BioNTech jabs.

This was because the Norwegian health authorities and the World Health Organisation’s global advisory committee on vaccine safety have found no evidence to suggest that the vaccine contributes to an increased risk of death in elderly persons.

Still, he said that MOH has emphasised again to vaccination providers that doctors should review the medical history of seniors carefully to confirm that they are indeed suitable for vaccination. They should also be monitored closely immediately after vaccination.

Singapore began vaccinating seniors aged 70 and older last Wednesday. Other than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, Singapore has signed advance purchase agreements for vaccines from the American firm Moderna and China’s Sinovac.

Discussions with a few other pharmaceutical companies are under way, but Dr Puthucheary said that the government cannot disclose the specific quantity of vaccines ordered or the delivery schedules because of commercial sensitivities and confidentiality agreements.

Alex Yam, MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, asked if Singapore would consider producing its own vaccines to avert future supply issues, given that the European Union (EU) recently instituted export controls on vaccines produced within the bloc.

Dr Puthucheary said that Singapore’s plan to roll out the vaccination programme remains unchanged despite the EU development. He added that the authorities would explore the prospect of local vaccine production. That will, however, be contingent on the licensure for a vaccine that is demonstrated to be safe and effective for the population, he said.

Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh from WP asked when the vaccines from Moderna or Sinovac would be made available here.

Dr Puthucheary said that he does not have an update, as it was for professional teams to study the data on these vaccines and ensure that a rigorous approval process is applied. — TODAY

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