SINGAPORE, Sept 14 — As primary school children are preparing for examinations and Covid-19 cases are “relatively low”, the vaccine rollout for children under five years old, as well as booster shots for those from six months to 11 years old, will begin late October or early November, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said.

However, there are no plans yet to include Covid-19 vaccination in the National Childhood Immunisation Schedule, Ong said in Parliament yesterday (September 13).

Explaining the timing for the vaccination rollout, Ong said that allowing children in both the older and younger age groups to get vaccinated at the same time and at the same location would be more convenient for parents who want to take their children in both age groups to the same vaccination centre.

Primary school examinations will also be over by then.

“And then with peace of mind, parents can bring their children, both from six months up to 11 years old either for their primary series or for their booster,” Ong said, adding that details will be announced when they are ready.

Ong was responding to a supplementary question posed by Yip Hon Weng, Member of Parliament for Yio Chu Kang. Yip wanted to know when the ministry will allow children below five years old to get vaccinated and efforts to encourage parents to vaccinate their children.

Ong said that the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) had approved the use of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine for children aged under five years but above six months.

In response to Yip's parliamentary question on whether Covid-19 vaccinations will be incorporated into the National Childhood Immunisation Schedule, which recommends the vaccines that children can receive from birth until the age of 17, Ong said that there are no plans to to do so because “the pandemic situation is dynamic”.

However, Ong added that the recommendations will evolve with new data and that the Ministry of Health (MoH) will review this requirement when appropriate.

In response to Yip’s question on whether the Novavax vaccine will be made available to children who are 18 years old and below, Ong said that HSA and the expert committee on Covid-19 vaccination are independently evaluating the vaccine for young persons aged 12 to 17.

Novavax has not submitted the application for its vaccine to be administered to children under 12 years old, he added.

Yip also asked for the total incidence of the multi-system inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) in vaccinated and non-vaccinated children who have been infected with Covid-19.

The rare syndrome, which occurs in children, is linked to a previous infection of the coronavirus. It is known to cause symptoms such as persistent fever and difficulty in breathing.

Ong said that as of August 29, the incidence of MIS-C was 5.7 per 100,000 for fully vaccinated young people infected with Covid-19 under the age of 18. For those who were not fully vaccinated, this figure was 38 per 100,000.

Bivalent Covid-19 vaccines

Ong said that HSA has completed the evaluation of the Moderna bivalent vaccine — which targets both the original Covid-19 virus and its Omicron variant — and a decision on mandating the vaccine for use here will be announced soon.

He was responding to a separate question posed by Yip on whether the Government will look into mandating targeted vaccines against the Omicron variant.

“Our intention is to update our vaccines for the national vaccination programme as formulations improve,” Ong said, adding that his ministry will provide more details when the arrangements are confirmed.

Reviewing vaccination measures

In a few month's time, MoH will complete its review of vaccination measures, including infection controls tied to vaccination, Ong said.

Responding to a question from Workers’ Party parliamentarian Jamus Lim, Ong said that the regulations that impose different requirements on vaccinated and non-vaccinated persons in high-risk settings are mandated for specific settings such as events with more than 500 participants at any one time.

However, business owners and employers have the flexibility to implement measures relevant to their settings, such as mask-wearing and adopting vaccination-related instructions for customers or workers.

“Nevertheless, as I have explained in my last press conference, we are reviewing vaccination requirements, from one of counting the number of doses and boosters we are taking, to ensuring that our vaccination is up to date.

“And this will be a more enduring posture as we live with Covid-19 as an endemic disease. We expect to complete this review in the next couple of months, and will review (the rules) at the same time,” Ong added.

Ong previously said that vaccination-related infection controls will be stepped down as Covid-19 rules in Singapore ease, so that businesses will not have to bear the cost of upholding Covid-19 rules.

In his reply yesterday, Ong said that these control measures are implemented at the height of an infection wave to prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed.

However, many of these measures are put in place in anticipation of another infection wave when cases are low.

“That is the nature of crisis management,” he said.

Assoc Prof Lim, who is an MP for Sengkang Group Representation Constituency, also asked in a supplementary question if the public sector will move towards the complete removal of infection controls linked to vaccines.

To this, Ong said that it is difficult to adopt “a blanket policy” requiring all of the public sector to remove them.

“It all depends on the settings. It depends on whether it is crowded, whether there are seniors present in those settings and what is the risk of transmission.

“So I think we always need to take a differentiated approach,” he said. ― TODAY