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Covid-19: Rush for Sinovac vaccine as clinics get calls ‘non-stop’, long queues form

SINGAPORE — Private clinics selected to administer the Government’s stock of Sinovac Covid-19 vaccines were inundated with calls on Thursday (June 17) as people rushed to register their interest for the China-made jab and be put on a waitlist.

Covid-19: Rush for Sinovac vaccine as clinics get calls ‘non-stop’, long queues form

Close to 50 people were in a queue to register for the Sinovac vaccine at HeartlandHealth (Bedok South) clinic on the evening of June 17, 2021.

  • People interested in the Sinovac vaccine may contact any of the 24 selected healthcare providers from June 18
  • A day before, queues started forming at one clinic in Bedok and others were inundated with calls
  • At another clinic, the waiting list exceeded 700 by 3.40pm on June 17
     

SINGAPORE — Private clinics selected to administer the Government’s stock of Sinovac Covid-19 vaccines were inundated with calls on Thursday (June 17) as people rushed to register their interest for the China-made vaccine and be put on a waitlist.

The land lines for almost all of the 24 clinics on the list, which was released by the Ministry of Health (MOH) late on Wednesday, could not be reached easily as they were frequently busy.

Three clinics, which TODAY managed to reach only after making multiple calls, said that their telephones had rung non-stop all day, and their waitlists were already filled with hundreds of names by mid-day.

They could not give out slots to the interested parties yet, as the vaccines had not arrived at their clinics, and it is still unclear when they would be ready to administer the jabs.

At one of the clinics, infectious disease specialist Leong Hoe Nam’s Rophi Clinic at Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre, the waiting list exceeded 700 by 3.40pm.

The interest was so overwhelming that “we feel like the Indonesian McDonald’s that opened up for BTS army orders for the latest promotion”, Dr Leong said.

In Indonesia, the fast-food chain had to temporarily close several outlets after huge crowds gathered to buy a promotional meal linked to the popular Korean boy band BTS.

At about 6.30pm, at least 47 people were seen by TODAY queuing outside the HeartlandHealth clinic at Bedok South to register for the Sinovac vaccine.

To manage the queues and high call volume, HeartlandHealth, which oversees four clinics, had to put up a Google Form on its website so that people could register their interest online.

The strong reception on Thursday came despite MOH’s instruction for those interested in receiving the Sinovac vaccine to wait until Friday to contact the providers directly for more information.

In MOH’s press release issued at 10.34pm on Wednesday, it had said that the 24 healthcare providers may draw upon the Government’s stock to administer Sinovac’s two-dose vaccine to Singaporeans, permanent residents and those holding long-term passes.

This would be done through a “special access route” as Sinovac has not been approved for general use here yet.

Fees range from S$10 to S$25 for a single dose. The Government will reimburse the fees for those who had been rejected from taking the approved Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines under the national vaccination exercise, or people who are allergic to these vaccines.

Sinovac is regarded as more suitable for those unable to get inoculated with Pfizer and Moderna as it does not rely on the messenger RNA (mRNA) technology adopted by those two vaccines.

While mRNA vaccines deliver a genetic code teaching cells in the body to make a protein that triggers an immune response against Covid-19, Sinovac utilises virus particles that have been killed or inactivated to stimulate the body to produce an immune response.

Earlier this month, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung had said that more than 30,000 individuals in Singapore were unable to take mRNA-based vaccines for medical reasons as he recognised a demand for alternative vaccines.

Singapore has a stockpile of about 200,000 doses of Sinovac.

A clinic assistant at Doctors Koo, Loh & Associates, a general practice medical clinic at Jurong West, told TODAY that she was shocked going into work on Thursday as “too many people” had called up the clinic.

“The calls were non-stop,” Ms Iris Chin said, adding that the clinic’s waitlist had almost 200 names by 3pm.

As it is still uncertain when the vaccines will arrive at the clinic, she said that she had told those making inquiries to call back next Wednesday if they want a firmer answer on when they can book an appointment to get the jab.

She said that people may walk into the clinic to fix an appointment, but they would not be allowed to get the jab immediately as an appointment would be required.

A person who answered the phone at Chinatown Wellness Clinic said that “a few hundred” people are on its waitlist and she had been “very busy” receiving calls. The line dropped out before TODAY could obtain her name.

Dr Leong also said that as approval was only given on Wednesday evening, his clinic was not prepared for the surge in the number of calls on Thursday and no slots were given out to callers.

He said that the first batch of Sinovac is due to reach him on Friday, but he added that “we can’t be sure if we are ready immediately”, as time is needed to stocktake and deliver the vaccines.

“We are using the weekend — Friday and Saturday — to check our processes before we roll out in a faster and orderly fashion,” he said. “Some individuals are selected for vaccinations first.”

The clinic would be able to administer the Sinovac vaccinations daily without affecting its other operations, he said.

People queueing outside the HeartlandHealth clinic at Bedok South on the evening of June 17, 2021. Photo: Kenneth Cheng/TODAY

Those who queued to indicate their interest for Sinovac at Bedok’s HeartlandHealth outlet included those who had been rejected from taking the approved vaccines, as well as foreigners who had not been offered a chance to get vaccinated.

One of them, China national Zhang Changgang, 42, who works for the drinks stall at the staff canteen of a bus interchange, said that he made his way down to the clinic, which is closest to his workplace, after receiving a message with a screenshot of the list of clinics from a friend over WeChat.

He was eager to confirm a slot as he had been waiting for the chance to get the vaccine, which his family members back in Shandong had also received.

Queuing in line as well was a 39-year-old accountant who wanted to be known only as Martin.

Although he has no underlying health issues that would preclude him from taking the approved vaccines, he said that he did not want to take the chance with the mRNA vaccines after reading that young men who took them were prone to heart inflammation, or myocarditis.

“I am managing the risk as I only have one heart,” Martin said. “It is my life. If I happen to be the unlucky one, I have got to live with it.”

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Covid-19 coronavirus Sinovac vaccination programme

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