Thursday 14 January 2021

COVID-19 vaccinations for seniors in Singapore will begin in late-January 2021

8 vaccination centres will be set up by the end of February as Singapore ramps up vaccine roll-out

More than 6,200 people in Singapore have received their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine so far

Letters will be progressively sent to seniors to invite them to book an appointment for their vaccination
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 14 Jan 2021

Singapore's vaccination programme is kicking into high gear, as it expands its scope and increases its pace, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday.

Eight vaccination centres will be set up by the end of February, including two centres at Changi Airport Terminal 4 and Raffles City Convention Centre that are already operational, as well as two more at the former Hong Kah Secondary School and Woodlands Galaxy Community Club, which will begin running next week.

Another four centres will be ready next month, and more centres will be progressively opened as Singapore expands its vaccination programme, added Mr Gan, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19.

Shots will also be given at polyclinics and general practitioner clinics, as well as at healthcare institutions.

Speaking to reporters during a visit to Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital yesterday, Mr Gan said the pace of vaccination is being ramped up from this week, with close to 2,800 vaccinated on Tuesday alone.

More than 6,200 people here have received their first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine so far, and this figure is expected to rise substantially in the coming weeks.

"We are planning to continue to expand the scope of vaccination and to increase the pace of vaccination eventually to cover the whole population in Singapore," he said.

Mr Gan and task force co-chair, Education Minister Lawrence Wong, also received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine yesterday.

Mr Wong also announced that the elderly will start receiving their Covid-19 vaccinations from this month. The Government had previously announced that seniors aged 70 and above would start getting jabs from next month.

Letters will be sent out to inform the elderly of when they can make bookings for their vaccinations.

Since Singapore kicked off its vaccination drive on Dec 30, vaccines have been administered to healthcare workers in public and private healthcare institutions.

Front-line workers, including those at airports and sea ports, as well as swabbers and workers in community care facilities, are also being vaccinated.

Letters will be progressively issued to other Singapore residents when their turn to be vaccinated comes. Mr Wong said this expansion of the vaccination programme will be timed together with the arrival of vaccine shipments.

Mr Gan urged Singapore residents to go for the vaccination when they are offered one, stressing that it will collectively provide protection against the coronavirus to the whole population if a high vaccination rate is achieved.

"This, in turn, will allow us to recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic more quickly. It will allow our economy to recover faster, it will also allow us to resume our community activities faster," he said.

If all goes to plan, Singapore will have enough vaccines to vaccinate everyone by the third quarter of this year.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine - the only one approved here to date - requires two injections, given 21 days apart. Singapore is expecting more vaccine deliveries in the next few months, including from American biotechnology firm Moderna and China's Sinovac.

The Sinovac vaccine has yet to be approved, said Mr Gan. The Moderna vaccine, which has a similar efficacy rate as Pfizer's, is under review, Mr Wong said.

The locations of vaccination centres
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 14 Jan 2021

By the end of this month, four Covid-19 vaccination centres will be operational, and two of them started running yesterday.

There will be four more centres by the end of next month, making it possible to vaccinate large numbers of people.

More centres will progressively be opened as Singapore expands its vaccination programme.

This is where the first four are located:

1 South: Raffles City Convention Centre (252 North Bridge Road)

2 East: Changi Airport Terminal 4 (10 Airport Boulevard)

3 North: Woodlands Galaxy Community Club (31 Woodlands Avenue 6)

4 West: Former Hong Kah Secondary School (931 Jurong West Street 42)

Volunteers to help seniors make bookings for their COVID-19 jabs
Those aged 70 and above to get letters on the process; they will start getting jabs later this month
By Hariz Baharudin, The Straits Times, 14 Jan 2021

Seniors will get help to make bookings for their Covid-19 jabs as the Government steps up its roll-out of the vaccine, said Education Minister Lawrence Wong.

Mr Wong, who co-chairs Singapore's multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19, announced yesterday that the elderly will start receiving their shots from later this month.

Letters will be sent out to inform them when they can make bookings for their vaccinations.

Volunteers will be trained to help seniors make online bookings via a booking system, and information in different languages will be given out at Housing Board estates.

"This process will take a bit of time. So, we will also step up our outreach and engagement efforts, particularly to the elderly across all our HDB estates, to let them know what this is about... and also to help them with the booking because not everybody will be familiar with the IT system," Mr Wong said.

The Government had previously announced that seniors aged 70 and above would start getting jabs from next month, but this has been brought forward.

Mr Wong said seniors will be invited to go to a polyclinic, Public Health Preparedness Clinic or vaccination centre nearest to them for their jab.

The booking system is required to avoid a wastage of vaccines, where the jabs are prepared but no one is there to receive them, added Mr Wong, who spoke to the media after receiving his Pfizer-BioNTech jab at Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital yesterday.

After the elderly, vaccines will be progressively made available to other segments of the population.

Mr Wong said this will be done in phases, and timed together with the arrival of vaccine shipments.

"We do expect a significant ramp-up from now onwards, and once again, we would encourage everyone to step forward, be vaccinated when you are offered the chance to be vaccinated," he added.

In a statement yesterday, the Ministry of Health said residents and clients in the community care sector will also progressively be vaccinated. Nursing homes have begun engaging residents and their next of kin on the vaccinations, added the ministry.

Singapore has about 80 nursing homes, housing some 16,000 residents.

More details on the vaccination for seniors will be provided later.

Singapore's Covid-19 vaccination exercise began on Dec 30. Since then, more than 6,200 people have received the vaccine.

Eight vaccination centres will be set up by the end of next month. Two centres - at Changi Airport Terminal 4 and Raffles City Convention Centre - are already operational.

In a Facebook post, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said vaccination for air crew and front-line airport workers began at T4 yesterday, and for marine pilots, crew and workers who have to go on board ships, at Raffles City.

The workers were vaccinated in small groups as an "operational warm-up" before full-scale operations next week, Mr Ong said.

"I will be at T4 with the CEOs of key aviation companies next Monday to explain the significance of this exercise," he added.

Get vaccinated promptly, don't wait for preferred COVID-19 vaccine brand: Lawrence Wong
By Hariz Baharudin, The Straits Times, 14 Jan 2021

People here should get vaccinated as soon as they are given the chance to do so, urged Education Minister Lawrence Wong yesterday, as he cautioned against waiting for one's preferred vaccine choices.

While the Government has made purchases and assured that there will be enough for everyone, there is uncertainty about the brand availability of vaccines, said Mr Wong, who is also co-chair of Singapore's multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19.

He added that there is no way of knowing when one's preferred brand might be available, but gave his assurance that Singapore's vaccines are safe.

"What we have today is an authorised vaccine that is safe, that's effective," he said.

"And when the time comes, just come forward and get yourself vaccinated, rather than waiting for some other brand that may or may not materialise down the road."

Mr Wong was speaking to reporters after receiving his Pfizer-BioNTech jab at Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital. Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who also co-chairs the Covid-19 task force, was vaccinated yesterday as well.

Vaccines by other pharmaceutical companies, Moderna and Sinovac, are expected to arrive in the months ahead.

Singapore's Covid-19 vaccination exercise began on Dec 30 last year with 40 healthcare workers at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases. Since then, more than 6,200 people have received the vaccine.

The roll-out of the jabs here will be done in phases that will be timed together with the arrival of Singapore's vaccine shipments.

The Government is setting up vaccination centres that will allow a large number of people to be vaccinated daily, and vaccinations will also be carried out at polyclinics and general practitioner clinics.

Yesterday, Mr Wong said there will be a significant ramp-up of vaccinations here, and added that it is important for front-liners like those working at Singapore's border entry points to get vaccinated as early as possible so that they can continue doing their job safely.

"That's the new front line, if you will, where the workers, crew and staff at these areas are potentially interacting with travellers and crew from overseas. So I think it's important that they get vaccinated early," he said.

"They are doing very important roles to keep our economy going, to keep Singapore going, and they are also an important part of our overall plan to contain the spread of the virus."

Singapore will review Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine carefully before possible roll-out: Health Minister Gan Kim Yong
By Clara Chong, The Straits Times, 14 Jan 2021

A coronavirus vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech will have to go through regulatory scrutiny and authorisation by Singapore's Health Sciences Authority (HSA) before it can be rolled out to the public, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday.

This comes on the back of data released from a Brazilian trial on Tuesday, which showed that the Sinovac vaccine was just 50.4 per cent effective in preventing symptomatic infections. This is barely enough for regulatory approval and well below the rate announced last week.

The Sinovac vaccine has yet to be approved, Mr Gan told reporters after receiving his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the only authorised one in Singapore.

He said: "We will go through the data carefully when it comes, rather than depending on reported numbers. It's better to rely on official data that we receive from Sinovac itself."

HSA will assess the data when it has been obtained and the nation's Covid-19 expert committee will also evaluate whether it is suitable for vaccination in Singapore, Mr Gan explained.

"We will share more details when they are available," he said.

Another vaccine candidate, developed by United States firm Moderna, has also submitted its data and is currently being reviewed by HSA, said Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who also received his first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine yesterday.

"If and when the Moderna vaccine is authorised for use, then we will also use it for the vaccination programme," he said.

Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are mRNA vaccines and have similar efficacy rates of around 95 per cent. mRNA is a genetic material that cells read to make proteins. After injection, cells in the body read this mRNA sequence to build spike proteins, and these protruding spikes and spike protein fragments can then be recognised by the immune system.

"I would think, between the two (Moderna and Pfizer), it's quite straightforward. Either one will do," Mr Wong said.

The Sinovac vaccine is an inactivated vaccine, a platform that has been used in many other shots, such as the polio vaccine.

"But we still need to look at the data, we still need to see if it's more efficacious - for example for specific sub-segments, we don't know yet," Mr Wong added, stressing that a detailed and comprehensive review will need to be done.

He urged the public to come forward to get vaccinated, instead of waiting for a specific brand of vaccine to get authorised, something which may or may not materialise.

"So, rather than hold out and wait, I think what we have today is an authorised vaccine that is safe and effective, and when the time comes, just come forward and get yourself vaccinated," he said.

Vaccination drive for aviation staff to get air hub buzzing again
37,000 front-line workers in aviation, maritime sectors expected to get COVID-19 vaccine within 2 months
By Kok Yufeng, The Straits Times, 19 Jan 2021

A mass exercise to vaccinate 37,000 front-line workers in the aviation and maritime sectors began yesterday, paving the way for Singapore to revive its flagging airline industry.

About 13,000 workers have registered to get their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine this week and the exercise is set to be completed within two months, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said during a visit to the vaccination centre at Changi Airport Terminal 4.

The vaccinations are a very important step towards reviving Singapore's air hub, which has been decimated by the pandemic, he told reporters. Passenger traffic at Changi saw a 98 per cent year-on-year decline last November.

If a substantial number of aviation and maritime workers are vaccinated, "whoever comes through will know that it is safe, (that) our people are cohesive and we work as a team", Mr Ong said.

"This is a huge advantage in terms of our brand name," he stressed. "Singapore Airlines (SIA) can be the first vaccinated international airline of the world."

Inoculating front-line workers will also protect Singapore, he added, noting that while the situation here is under control, the virus is "raging like wildfire" abroad.

"All our 37,000 front-liners, they're defenders of our borders because the borders are a key vulnerability," he said, as he urged these front-liners to step forward.

The T4 centre will vaccinate up to 2,000 people a day and capacity can be further expanded, said the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) in a statement.

Priority will be given to 20,000 front-line workers, including cabin crew, cleaners, security screeners and baggage handlers, who may come into contact with travellers from high-risk countries, as well as their belongings.

The vaccination centre at Raffles City Convention Centre, where maritime workers get their jabs, will inoculate 1,000 people a day.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said more than 10,000 port workers, harbour pilots, cargo officers and marine superintendents will be vaccinated by the end of the month.

Aviation and maritime workers who have completed their full course of vaccination will also be subjected to fewer testing requirements, said CAAS and MPA.

This will kick in two weeks after workers get the second shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has two doses given 21 days apart.

Those rostered to be tested every seven days will be tested once every 14 days instead. Those tested every 14 days will need to be tested only once a month.

Mr Ong said there will be some workers who are reluctant to take the vaccine, due to personal considerations. But the majority are willing to step forward, he said, adding: "So just start vaccinating those who are willing first, and over time, I think, the momentum will grow... As of now the national policy remains that we are not making it compulsory, even at the sectoral basis."

On the air travel bubble with Hong Kong that was deferred last November, Mr Ong said he would rather not set a target for when it can resume. As for air travel bubbles with other places, the minister said Singapore continues to explore such arrangements. "They will continue to be relevant with or without vaccines," he added.

Mr Ong, SIA chief executive Goh Choon Phong, and Sats president and chief executive Alex Hungate got their jabs yesterday.

In an internal e-mail to SIA staff seen by The Straits Times, Mr Goh said vaccinations are expected to be the game changer in facilitating the opening of borders again.

"It will set the SIA Group up for a quicker recovery from this debilitating crisis," he wrote.

"This will also be an important differentiator in the airline industry, and support our goal of continuing to be a leader in the new normal."

Vaccination centre at Changi T4 can inoculate 4,000 a day
By Kok Yufeng, The Straits Times, 19 Jan 2021

When Raffles Medical Group received the call to set up a vaccination centre at Changi Airport Terminal 4, it took just five days to get the whole operation up and running.

Last week, more than 1,000 aviation workers were vaccinated there in a trial run of operations.

Full-scale vaccination of air crew and front-line workers started on Monday (Jan 18), and the centre will inoculate 7,000 people this week.

There is scope to ramp up capacity even further, said the centre's lead physician, Dr Tan Joo Peng.

"It was a combined effort between ourselves and our Changi Airport Group counterparts to set this up in fairly record time," Dr Tan, 38, told reporters on Monday (Jan 18).

"We have 27 vaccination stations, so based on a conservative planning norm of 12 patients per hour and 14 hours of operations per day, I am fairly confident we can do 4,000 vaccinations, if not more.

"(We have) the ability to scale up further if the nation calls for it."

The aim, Dr Tan said, is to keep the total time it takes for a person to get vaccinated to under an hour, including 30 minutes of observation time to ensure there are no adverse effects.

A medical fridge, which can store more than 10,000 doses, was specially brought in as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has to be stored at minus 70 deg C.

"(Proper) storage of the vaccine is critical. We don't want any wastage," said Dr Tan.

Operations managers on the ground also look at the flow of people at the centre and prepare the appropriate number of jabs.

It takes 30 minutes to prepare the vaccine as it has to be got up to room temperature.

At any one time, there are 70 doctors, nurses and healthcare attendants at the centre to render treatment and attend to emergencies.

Said Dr Tan: "We have EpiPens and adrenaline. All the resuscitation equipment is on hand."

Fortunately, there have not been any adverse reactions to the vaccines so far, he said. Common complaints include aching near the injection site and minor headaches.

Said Dr Tan: "For those with minor reactions, it is actually very safe. It is mainly those who have had anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction) that are a no-go."

Mr Anthony Low, a duty manager for ground-handling and in-flight catering firm Sats, got his jab last week with his wife, who is also in the aviation sector.

While the 52-year-old has a drug allergy, that did not stop him from volunteering to be vaccinated.

"I felt it would protect not only myself, but also the people around me," said Mr Low, who works in passenger services.

Singapore Airlines pilot Anwar Salim, 49, who was vaccinated yesterday, said: "It was quite a painless procedure."

Sats president and chief executive officer Alex Hungate, who also got vaccinated on Monday (Jan 18), said aviation workers have even more reason to step up and get vaccinated, given the pressure that the industry has been under due to Covid-19.

Of the 10,000 Sats staff here, 2,000 have already registered for the shots.

Mr Hungate said Sats does not intend to make vaccinations compulsory.

"It is up to individuals whether or not they want to take the vaccine. Our role is to make sure they have all the facts before they make the decision."


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