Singapore health minister says not yet time to consider making Covid-19 vaccination mandatory

Singapore Health Minister Ong Ye Kung (left) and Member of Parliament Alex Yam (right) debating about making Covid-19 vaccination compulsory. — Singapore parliament screen capture via TODAY
Singapore Health Minister Ong Ye Kung (left) and Member of Parliament Alex Yam (right) debating about making Covid-19 vaccination compulsory. — Singapore parliament screen capture via TODAY

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SINGAPORE, July 27 — It is not yet time for the Singapore government to think about making Covid-19 jabs mandatory as they are being rolled out under emergency authorisation, though perhaps it is a policy that “governments around the world will have to consider” when Covid-19 becomes endemic, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said yesterday.

Member of Parliament (MP) Alex Yam of Marsiling-Yew Tee Group Representation Constituency (GRC) asked in Parliament about making Covid-19 jabs mandatory, an issue he said he had raised at the beginning of the vaccination programme.

Yam said it was “our civic duty to be vaccinated, if there are no medical grounds to refuse”.

“Ultimately, the fear is that the freedom of a minority to choose not to be vaccinated will affect the freedom of the majority who have chosen to be vaccinated for the sake of themselves and families and the community,” he added.

In reply, Ong said that it is “not time yet to think about that proposition” as the use of the vaccines is under the Pandemic Special Access Route, which refers to provisions allowing for the interim authorisation of emergency therapeutic products by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA).

“So, under emergency use in the pandemic situation, to make it mandatory, I think, is not quite consistent. In time to come when Covid-19 is really endemic, maybe it’s a policy that governments around the world will have to consider,” he added.

Interim emergency use authorisation for the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine was granted by the HSA on Dec 14, 2020 and for the Moderna vaccine on Feb 3 this year.

Some countries have already issued mandates for some classes of workers.

For example, according to Reuters, Australia decided in late June to make Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory for high-risk aged-care workers and employees in quarantine hotels. It will be mandatory for care home workers in England to be vaccinated from October.

Greece on July 12 made vaccinations mandatory for nursing home staff with immediate effect and healthcare workers from September.

The World Health Organisation previously said that persuading people on the merits of a Covid-19 vaccine would be far more effective than trying to make the jabs mandatory.

In another question, Ms Nadia Samdin, MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, expressed concern about discrimination and treatment of those who have been vaccinated, versus those who are unable to and those who do not wish to be vaccinated.

“I know full well the impact of some of those who are unvaccinated for various medical reasons, in particular our seniors, and the social impact of the isolation, not being able to be involved in activities,” she said.

Therefore, she asked if the Singapore government could consider amending the TraceTogether app to show those who are vaccinated, those who are not and those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.

Ong replied that when it comes to those who choose not to get vaccinated and those who cannot get vaccinated, “from a public health point of view, they are actually the same”.

He added that both groups are equally vulnerable.

“And so from a public health point of view, we ought to treat them the same. If you are not vaccinated, to protect you, best not to join the big events. It cannot be that because your intention is different, we let you join. That will not make sense from a public health point of view,” Ong said.

“Having said that, as I mentioned earlier, we will think of measures such as you get yourself tested, and you can join, or in time to come when our vaccination rate is very high, and our collective resilience is so strong, we actually don’t need much of that differentiation.” — TODAY

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