Singapore's Covid-19 vaccine programme will kick into high gear in the coming weeks, with more than 60,000 people having received their first doses of the jab, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.
While delays are expected for vaccine shipments due to supply issues, the Government is monitoring the situation closely to ensure there are enough jabs for all Singaporeans and long-term residents by the third quarter of this year.
Mr Gan, co-chair of the multi-ministerial task force tackling the pandemic, said at a media briefing yesterday that about 10,000 individuals received their vaccine doses on Wednesday, and more will be doing so soon.
"These numbers are expected to rise substantially in the coming weeks, as we continue to ramp up our vaccination capacity and operations while maintaining the highest standards of safety," he added.
In a statement, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said 39 staff at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases have already received their second dose of the vaccine. This means that they have completed the full vaccination regimen, and will have built up maximum protection in two weeks' time.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine - the only one approved here to date - requires two injections, given 21 days apart.
MOH said there will be some delays in the shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine because of upgrading works at Pfizer's manufacturing plant in Belgium.
Mr Gan said one particular shipment has been delayed, but is still scheduled to arrive in time for the vaccination programme.
But he added that disruptions from time to time should be expected, due to uncertainties that remain surrounding the global vaccine roll-out.
He pointed out that manufacturers might divert some of their supplies to other areas that may need vaccines more urgently due to huge outbreaks. Vaccine production and logistics arrangements could also be interrupted, he noted.
Singaporeans should thus not wait to get vaccinated and do so as soon as they are given the chance.
"When your turn comes for the vaccination, please do make an appointment early, because there will always be a possibility of a disruption as we go along, as we move forward," he said.
Singapore is expecting more Covid-19 vaccine deliveries in the next few months, including from American biotechnology firm Moderna and China's Sinovac.
Asked for an update on the review of these vaccines, MOH's director of medical services Kenneth Mak said a decision is expected soon on one of the vaccines under evaluation, which he did not name.
"The other vaccine, I understand we are still clarifying further details with the company that produces the vaccine," he added. "We are hopeful that if we are able to get all the information necessary for evaluation, then HSA (Health Sciences Authority) can complete its review process and then give approval for the other vaccines as well."
Asked about the side effects experienced by those who have been vaccinated here, Prof Mak said the Government has received some reports of "adverse effects" as they arise. It is currently compiling reports on these and submitting them to its vaccine expert panel for review and recommendations.
In general, the majority of side effects reported in various countries that have launched vaccination programmes have been very mild, he said.
These include pain, redness, swelling, soreness of the muscles, as well as fatigue and fever.
"Many of these symptoms in fact reflect the body's immune system responding to the vaccine dose that has been injected in them, and there will be some that may have more serious side effects which include allergic reactions of a variety of different grades of severity."
The authorities are still compiling and organising the data, and will give an update when ready, Prof Mak added.
On vaccine passports - proof of vaccination usually for travel purposes - Education Minister Lawrence Wong said Singapore is still studying the matter.
For example, the Government will consider reducing the quarantine requirement if it is proven that those inoculated are immune and cannot transmit Covid-19 to others. This would apply to foreign visitors and returning Singaporeans who have received their jabs.
"But these are still early days. We are still studying the data and the evidence very carefully before we make any decisions on this matter," Mr Wong said.