Vaccinations for COVID-19 will also be free for long-term pass holders, in addition to Singapore citizens and permanent residents (PRs), said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong in Parliament on Monday (4 January).
Mr Gan was responding to written questions from Members of Parliament (MPs) including Sembawang GRC MP Lim Wee Kiak on whether the vaccination will be made mandatory for both Singaporeans and foreign residents.
Mr Gan said that the long-term pass holders include holders of the Employment Pass, S-Pass and Work Permit, as well as migrant domestic workers. The free vaccinations will cover around 5.7 million people in Singapore, he noted.
Short-term visit pass holders and tourists will not be eligible for free vaccinations.
Reiterating that while the Government encourages the Singapore population to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, Mr Gan also said that vaccinations should be on a voluntary basis.
Groups most at risk of contracting the virus will be prioritised for vaccination, starting with healthcare workers, swabbers, officers at quarantine centres and other frontline workers. This will be followed next month by elderly people aged 70 and above.
Workers in industries with a high risk of “super-spreading” of COVID-19 such as the construction and marine industries will also be among those prioritised for vaccination.
Mr Gan said that those who have been vaccinated will receive a physical card to remind them of their next appointment for the second dose of vaccine, as well as to know which vaccine was given to them and to seek post-vaccination advice.
They will also have their records updated in the National Immunisation Registry. They will also be able to check on their status online, said Mr Gan.
Responding to a question from Dr Lim on the number of COVID-19 vaccines that have been secured for Singapore, Mr Gan said that while the Government is not able to specify such due to confidentiality clauses in advance purchase agreements with the vaccine manufacturers, Singapore could have enough vaccines for the population by the third quarter of this year if everything goes as planned.
Sengkang GRC MP Louis Chua in a follow-up supplementary question asked the Minister as to what the aggregate number of doses to give the people reassurance that enough has been secured, to which Mr Gan reiterated that he was not able to give a specific number as he had mentioned earlier.
Replying to written questions from West Coast GRC MP Foo Mee Har, Aljunied GRC MP Sylvia Lim and other MPs on how the Government evaluates the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines, Mr Gan said that such vaccines must be approved by the Health Sciences Authority in line with “strict international standards”.
The Moderna and Sinovac vaccines, he added, are currently undergoing a review process.
Touching on the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines, Mr Gan said that potential side effects may comprise pain at the injection site, fatigue, fever, muscle aches and headaches.
However, he stressed that such side effects are similar to other established vaccines, which will often “resolve on their own” in a few days.
In very rare circumstances, however, some people may experience adverse reactions to the vaccine they receive. Thus, the individuals ought to be observed for reactions such as anaphylaxis for 30 minutes after receiving the vaccine, said Mr Gan.
Mr Chua of Sengkang GRC asked Mr Gan whether individuals will be given the choice to decide on the type of vaccine they will receive when more than one vaccine has been approved.
Mr Gan said that allowing so will “unnecessarily complicate the already complex vaccination programme”.
“Anyway, in the immediate term, only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been approved for use,” said Mr Gan.
Ms Foo of West Coast GRC asked Mr Gan an oral supplementary question on whether COVID-19 vaccinations will be a pre-requisite for travel and even employment in the future.
His COVID-19 taskforce co-chair Minister Lawrence Wong said that vaccinations are “not a silver bullet” and that the Government is still assessing how vaccination can reduce transmission risks.
Existing measures such as testing and safe distancing measures, he added, remain in place.
Mr Gan earlier said that COVID-19 vaccines are a “key enabler to return to normalcy”.
“The best time to vaccinate is now,” Mr Gan stressed, adding that it would be too late for people to wait until an outbreak takes place to do so.