Just two weeks after Singapore received its first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong kicked off the nationwide drive to vaccinate staff across public healthcare institutions on the island by receiving the shot himself on Friday (8 January) morning.
He received the vaccine along with the Ministry of Health’s Director of Medical Services Kenneth Mak and 88 healthcare workers from the Singapore General Hospital (SGH). However, they are not the first to receive the jabs.
Instead, forty employees at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) were the first to be inoculated on 30 December, including director Leo Yee Sin.
Following a 30-minute observation period after the jab was administered, Mr Lee said to reporters, “It’s painless, it’s effective and it’s important.”
“I hope that Singaporeans will take it up as we roll it out,” he added.
Mr Lee went on give reassurances that there are “ample vaccines coming in”, and that “We ordered them early, we have enough for everybody in Singapore – all the residents, all the citizens and even the non-citizens who are staying here.”
The Prime Minister, who was at SGH to also observe the start of the vaccine roll out to healthcare workers, said he took the chance to get his inoculation done now as well. Since he is left-handed, Mr Lee received the jab in this right arm. He will also return in three weeks to receive a second dose.
This is per the procedure for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine which requires a second shot to be delivered 21 days apart.
“The needle was very fine,” Mr Lee added in Mandarin. “You can hardly feel it when it goes in.”
Urging all residents in the country to get the vaccine when it is made available to them, Mr Lee stressed, “It will make us safer, and it will make you and your loved ones safer too, so please take it when you get it.”
The vaccine is free for all Singaporeans and long-term residents who are currently in the country.
In a Facebook post on the same day, Mr Lee described the experience as “quite painless”. He said, “I was observed for 30 minutes after getting the vaccine but I am happy to report that I feel fine and have no side effects.”
“I am confident that the vaccine is safe and effective,” he added.
He also reiterated his earlier statement that there is enough vaccines for everyone and hopes that everyone will get vaccinated when the time comes.
The Prime Minister also noted that everyone will be screened before being vaccinated to ensure that they are medically eligible to take the vaccine.
Last month, Mr Lee had announced that he and the rest of the Cabinet will be receiving the vaccine as a way to reassure the rest of the country that the vaccine is safe.
Singapore received this first shipment of vaccines from Brussels via a Singapore Airline’s flight. Upon arrival in the country, it was taken to a secret location in a refrigerated truck.
No choice of vaccine; allocation based on availability and need
On Monday (4 January) Minister of Health Gan Kim Yong said that those who opt to receive the COVID-19 vaccine will receive a physically vaccination card, adding that they can also check their records online. The card will indicate which vaccine was administer and the next appointment date for the second dose, as well as some post-vaccination advice.
Speaking in Parliament, Mr Gan said that vaccine records will be updated in the National immunisation Registry.
When asked by Workers’ Party (WP) MP for Sengkang GRC Mr Louis Chua if people would be able to choose which vaccine they want to take when more than one is approved for use, Mr Gan said that this would not be allowed.
He explained that allowing people to choose which vaccine they want would “unnecessarily complicate the already complex vaccination programme.”
Instead, Mr Gan said that the vaccines allocation will be made based on availability, medical indications of the different vaccines and the suitability of each vaccine for different population subgroups.
“Anyway, in the immediate term, only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been approved for use,” Mr Gan said. “So there is no choice.”
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that Mr Lee received requires two doses to be administered 21 days apart. The second dose needs another 14 days after that to reach maximum protection. The Moderna vaccine, however, required the two doses to be administered 28 days apart.