No plans yet to make Covid-19 vaccine compulsory given Singapore’s high inoculation rate: Puthucheary
SINGAPORE — There are no plans to make Covid-19 vaccine compulsory here any time soon as Singapore already has a very high acceptance rate of the vaccine, said Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary in Parliament on Tuesday (Sept 14).
- Singapore will not be making vaccination against Covid-19 compulsory for now
- It already has a high vaccination rate among its population, Dr Janil Puthucheary said
- The vaccines would also need to be fully approved before the Government can consider making it compulsory
- Four vaccination centres will be closed at the end of September and others may scale down operations
SINGAPORE — There are no plans to make vaccination against Covid-19 compulsory here any time soon because Singapore already has a very high acceptance rate of the vaccine, Dr Janil Puthucheary said.
The Senior Minister of State for Health was speaking in Parliament on Tuesday (Sept 14), in response to a question from Mr Alex Yam, Member of Parliament (MP) for Marsiling-Yew Tee Group Representation Constituency (GRC), who had asked if the Government is considering making Covid-19 booster shots and vaccination compulsory here.
Mr Yam had also asked if the authorities will be granting full approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech or Comirnaty and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines, given that they have only been given interim approval by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) for use in the national vaccination programme.
In his reply, Dr Puthucheary said that unlike other countries such as the United States that are considering making vaccination mandatory, Singapore already has a much higher vaccination rate.
Data from the Ministry of Health (MOH) showed that as of Sept 12, 81 per cent of the population has completed their full regimen or received two doses of Covid-19 vaccines, and 84 per cent has received at least one dose.
The coronavirus vaccines will also need to undergo full approval first before the authorities will consider making the programme compulsory, and full approval will not be granted any time soon, Dr Puthucheary said.
To grant full approval, the Government will need data and an application from the manufacturers of the vaccine for HSA and health experts here to make an assessment.
“We will study the matter when it arises,” he added.
Dr Puthucheary also gave an update on the Covid-19 situation here in response to questions filed by several MPs on the matter.
Dr Lim Wee Kiak, MP for Sembawang GRC, had asked whether there are plans to wind down vaccination centres islandwide given that the vaccination rate here has reached 80 per cent, and whether some centres will become permanent fixtures to administer booster shots, if necessary, in the future.
To this, Dr Puthucheary said that the Government will close down four vaccination centres at the end of September and may scale down the operations of others as well.
By the end of October, it will also increase the number of Public Health Preparedness Clinics that offer Covid-19 vaccinations — from 79 now to 100 clinics.
These clinics were activated during the pandemic to administer vaccines and serve the primary healthcare needs of the population during a public health crisis.
In response to a question from Associate Professor Jamus Lim, Workers’ Party MP for Sengkang GRC, on why there were delays in the arrival of Covid-19 vaccine shipments to Singapore, Dr Puthucheary rebutted the suggestion, saying that the vaccination programme here “has not been slow at all”.
He pointed out that Singapore was one of the first countries to secure vaccine supplies and received its first shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in the middle of December last year.
Singapore’s Covid-19 vaccine coverage is also one of the highest in the world, he added.
In a supplementary question, Assoc Prof Lim said that he disagreed with the “characterisation that our vaccination rollout was as rapid as could be”, pointing to countries such as Israel that were able to inoculate 60 per cent of its population against the coronavirus by March.
“Given that we had already negotiated these advance agreements, it’s puzzling why we were not able to accelerate the (vaccination) rollout in the first three months of this year,” Assoc Prof Lim asked.
To this, Dr Puthucheary reiterated that the national vaccination programme was held back by supply constraints on the manufacturers’ end and they were under strain to produce vaccines for the rest of the world as well.
‘SMALL NUMBER’ OF PEOPLE WHO CAN'T TAKE VACCINES
Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh asked for the number of Singaporeans who cannot take the vaccines for medical reasons and whether the authorities would consider extending subsidised antigen rapid tests to this group as it ramps up testing here.
Dr Puthucheary said that the number of people who are unable to get immunised due to medical reasons is “small”.
He also said that this number is not fixed because some in this group are, for example, patients waiting for chemotherapy to be completed or recovering from surgery.
On the issue of providing subsidised antigen rapid test kits to this group, Dr Puthucheary said that Covid-19 testing is “not going to protect them from the vulnerability they have as a result of their medical condition”.
“It’s not quite the same as the circumstances where you have someone who, for some reasons, is allergic to a vaccine and then cannot complete a vaccination regimen but would like to go out and work (because they are) otherwise healthy,” he said, adding that these are the not-so-vulnerable individuals for whom the Government has been providing subsidies.
CHILDREN INFECTED WITH DELTA VARIANT
Separately, Dr Puthucheary gave data on the number of children who have contracted the Delta strain of the coronavirus.
In all, Singapore has had 367 children infected so far, of whom 172 were caused by the Delta variant.
Children below the age of 12 who were infected with the Delta variant account for 0.6 per cent of all locally transmitted cases.
The number of infections by age group:
Age zero to one – 13.6 per cent, or 50 cases
Age two to four – 22.6 per cent, or 83 cases
Age five to six – 20.7 per cent, or 76 cases
Age seven to 12 – 43.1 per cent, or 158 cases
So far, none of the children who have had Covid-19 here were seriously ill, needed oxygen support or treated under intensive care, Dr Puthucheary said.
Still, the Government is mindful that the number of cases in the community is rising and there may be more children infected in the future.
“We will ensure that these children receive appropriate care if their illness is more severe,” he added.
In response to media queries on Friday, MOH said that while the number of infections among children here is small, Singapore could look at the experience of Denmark, which has a similar population size and high testing rates but had many coronavirus cases while the country was in the midst of its vaccination programme.
Among those aged 19 and below in Denmark, there were 67 hospital cases and four cases admitted to intensive care units (ICU) out of every 10,000 infected persons. Based on available data, there have been two paediatric deaths, both aged between 0 and 9, out of about 28,000 infections reported for that age group since the start of the pandemic.
As of Monday, there were 27,945 confirmed Covid-19 cases, 302 hospital admissions and 16 ICU admissions among those between the ages of 0 and 9 in Denmark.
For 10- to 19-year-olds, there were 60,426 confirmed coronavirus infections, 298 hospital cases and 21 ICU admissions.