There will be “tangible benefits” for those who choose to get the COVID-19 vaccine, while those who choose not to be vaccinated may need to go through “more frequent tests” and “other additional requirements”, said Education Minister and COVID-19 taskforce co-chair Lawrence Wong on Thursday (7 January).
Mr Wong told CNA in an interview that “transmission risk can be significantly reduced” if “the data validates all the hypotheses”.
“It may well be that travellers coming back need not serve SHN [stay-home notice] or will serve a shorter SHN. So those will be the benefits of getting a vaccination besides the fact that you are protecting yourself and your loved ones,” said the Minister.
“There will be these tangible benefits and those who choose not to be vaccinated, well, then you have to live with more frequent tests, you have to live with quarantine, you have to live with all of these other additional requirements,” he added.
According to Mr Wong, the committee and experts had first narrowed down the selections of vaccine candidates to 35, before deciding on the three vaccines –- Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Sinovac –- based on its safety and effectiveness on the preliminary data that was available then.
“And that’s the three that we have made advanced purchases for, with the aim of building a diversified portfolio of vaccines that will be safe and effective for use in Singapore,” he noted.
The Economic Development Board (EDB) stated that the vaccine panel made its first advance purchase agreement with Moderna in June last year, and bought the Sinovac vaccine in August while it was in advance talks with Pfizer-BioNTech, as reported by CNA.
Subsequently, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was approved by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA).
One of the guests in CNA’s interview, senior vice president at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Associate Professor Benjamin Ong, said that the data for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is “most complete” and experts are “confident enough” to recommend its use in Singapore.
The city-state received its first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on 21 December, with 40 employees at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) becoming the first group to be inoculated on 30 December.
However, Mr Wong noted that the panel wanted to continue to see if it can make other purchase to add to the vaccine portfolio.
“That’s our overall approach. It’s not to make a single bet, we know that we’ve made some early bets, some may turn out positive as I think Pfizer has now been authorised, Moderna looks like it’s going to be, it has been approved in America.
“We are looking at the data, we will await that data full data from Sinovac and then the process will continue for other vaccine candidates,” he added.
In terms of whether people would be allowed to choose their vaccine, Mr Wong told CNA that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines worked similarly, and efficacy rates from evidence globally were “all about the same”.
“So really, there’s not much to differentiate between these two vaccines. I think at this point in time, we have Pfizer only, there’s nothing to choose from. So let’s go with Pfizer, get people vaccinated on the Pfizer vaccine,” said Mr Wong.
“If later on other vaccines are authorised, be it Moderna or Sinovac, then we have to think about whether choice may be extended. Or perhaps some vaccines work better for certain sub-segments of the population, and then we might allocate vaccines differently as well,” he added.
Another guest at CNA’s interview, director of communicable diseases at the Ministry of Health (MOH) Associate Professor Vernon Lee, noted that individuals who do not get vaccinated are “still susceptible” to being infected with COVID-19.
“If we are not vaccinated, every single individual who is not vaccinated, is another naive susceptible individual who then can get infected by those diseases. To protect yourself, you should get vaccinated and then there’s the other benefit of protecting your loved ones and those around you,” said Assoc Prof Lee.
“It is very important for that reason because even if we have high vaccination coverage, it does not mean no disease. It is not possible to wipe COVID-19 from the face of the earth. We’re going to see this recurring from time to time, so it is important for that personal protection reason,” he added.
Netizens say the Govt is “indirectly forcing” people to be vaccinated
Meanwhile, under the comment section of CNA’s Facebook post on the matter, netizens opined that the Government is “indirectly forcing” Singaporeans to get the COVID-19 vaccine, given that individuals who choose to decline the vaccine will be required to go through “additional requirements”.
Others noted that the Government may be “flipping back on their own word” that the vaccine is not compulsory, comparing it to how the Government has made a sudden change in the use of COVID-19 contact tracing TraceTogether data.
Govt will not be making any changes to existing domestic or travel safety measures unless “results indicate that vaccinations do offer protection to others”: Minister Lawrence Wong in Parliament on 4 January
In a ministerial statement on 4 January, Mr Wong told Parliament that while vaccination is likely to “reduce the risk of transmission of the virus”, the Government still does “not know the extent of the reduction”.
“If there is clear evidence that transmission risks can be lowered significantly, then we will certainly consider some relaxation to the SHN regime for vaccinated travellers,” he added.
Mr Wong told the House that the Government will “fine-tune” its “approach” over time “once we better understand the effect of the vaccine”.
Mr Wong also told Members of Parliament (MPs) after his ministerial statement — in response to their follow-up questions — that the Government will not be making any changes to existing domestic or travel safety measures unless “results indicate that vaccinations do offer protection to others”.
He also said that a “significant number” of people can only get vaccinated by the third quarter of 2021, which is why the Government should “not rush to make big changes and big relaxations”.
“We have to do this in a controlled manner, recognising that the risks are there and the virus is raging everywhere in the world. And there are new strains emerging. Let’s do this in a very controlled, careful, calibrated manner,” said Mr Wong.