Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Thursday (19 Aug) that Singapore will “very likely” have to begin a COVID-19 vaccination booster exercise, adding that it is necessary for individuals who are severely immunocompromised to get a third shot of the vaccine.
This includes those on cancer treatment, transplant patients, patients on immunosuppressive therapy, and end-stage kidney disease patients on dialysis.
“We will very likely have to start a booster exercise. (Other) countries started vaccinations earlier than us, and we therefore now have the advantage of observing them and learning from their experiences,” said Mr Ong, who also co-chairs the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force.
He went on to say that the Expert Committee on COVID-19 Vaccination in Singapore is actively coming up on a booster programme and is studying the results from other countries before finalising recommendations.
Mr Ong revealed that Israel has already started giving booster shots to their seniors and the vulnerable, whereas nations like Britain, Germany, and France have announced that they will start their booster jab next month.
Additionally, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC) has also suggested to administer booster shots for individuals who have completed their vaccinations at least eight months ago.
However, one thing that the Expert Committee is certain and will recommend is for Singapore to give a third shot for patients who were severely immunocompromised at the time of their first two doses, Mr Ong noted.
“Because of their conditions, these persons react much less to vaccinations even after two doses, meaning they cannot produce as much antibodies or activate the necessary mechanisms to fight the virus,” said the Minister.
“Hence a third dose of vaccine is necessary for them,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health (MOH) stated that it is also studying the need to improve the immune response of individuals who have a weaker immune response to vaccination even after they have completed a full vaccination regime.
MOH’s director of medical services Kenneth Mak said yesterday that this includes individuals who have a higher risk of getting infections even after vaccination.
“For example, they may have not mounted an adequate immune response to the original full two-dose regime, or they have a waning protection from vaccinations and therefore require augmentation of that immune response in order to give them further protection,” he said.
This comes after the Associate Professor’s earlier remark on 6 August that the Expert Committee is looking at whether COVID-19 booster shots are required to be administered to specific groups such as seniors, vulnerable people, and healthcare workers, or to the general population.
But for now, the Expert Committee is studying the incidence of adverse reactions of a booster shot in other countries.
“Will it be as low as the first and second dose, or higher? And if it’s higher, what are the steps that we can take to mitigate or remove the risk?” said Mr Ong.
If that’s not all, he also noted that the Expert Committee is also discussing on whether the same vaccine or a different one should be given.
Mr Ong went on to say that there is a scientific basis for recommending to use a difference vaccine as it may provide stronger protection, adding that Britain is implementing this strategy and Singapore will closely monitor their outcome.
“In Singapore, too, we have a sizeable group of people who took the first shot of mRNA (vaccine), found out that they are allergic to it, and therefore completed their vaccinations using Sinovac. So the committee will be closely monitoring their immune response,” he said..