Adult vaccination rates in Singapore are dismal and doctors say this is largely because people still believe that they are only needed by children or those going overseas.
"People tend to think of vaccinations as something for kids, but there are vaccinations that people should be getting regularly," said Adjunct Associate Professor Lim Poh Lian. Prof Lim is deputy clinical director of the Communicable Disease Centre at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
Last Saturday, the Health Ministry (MOH) announced that it had drawn up a list of seven vaccines that most Singaporeans should take at some point in their adult lives.
These vaccines protect against 11 diseases, including influenza, pneumococcal disease and the human papilloma virus (HPV) which is linked to cervical cancer.
Such national adult immunisation schedules are well-established in countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia. But in Singapore, the take-up rate has traditionally been low.
A 2013 national survey found that between 14 and 20 per cent of people aged 50 and above had taken the flu vaccine, which costs $20 to $30, according to government health portal HealthHub.
The survey found that for the same age group, pneumococcal vaccine take-up rates were between 5 and 8 per cent. This vaccine typically costs between $70 and $170.
These two vaccines are commonly recommended for older people, who have weaker immune systems.
14% - 20%
Percentage of people aged 50 and above who had taken the flu vaccine, according to a 2013 survey.
Percentage of people in the same age group who had taken the pneumococcal vaccine.
The Straits Times understands that there is no national data available for the other five vaccines in the new national schedule, including those against HPV and measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).
"As adult vaccination is recommended for personal protection, the Health Ministry will monitor the uptake of recommended adult vaccinations," said a ministry spokesman.
He added that MOH will also consider measures to encourage more people to get vaccinated.
While a few doses of certain vaccinations should give a person immunity for a lifetime, others - such as the flu shot - need to be given yearly. "The virus keeps mutating - you take one shot but the next year, the flu virus has changed," Prof Lim said.
Others, such as the MMR or hepatitis B vaccines, are part of both the child and adult immunisation schedules.
These are advised for adults who have not had the vaccines as children, or show no signs that they are immune to these diseases.
Dr Winston Ho, medical director of the Parkway Shenton chain of clinics, said: "A recent increase in the number of cases of measles and mumps worldwide demonstrated that the immunity conferred during childhood vaccination was insufficient, and a second dose was needed."
Dr Say Tian Ling, a family physician at Lifescan Medical Centre, suggested that adults who want to get vaccinated should consult their family doctor first.