SINGAPORE - With the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccine booster shots expected to start this month, The Straits Times tackles key questions about the programme, including whether someone will be considered "unvaccinated" if they do not get the booster shots.
Q: Why is there a need for booster shots?
A: Booster shots will increase vaccine effectiveness and help in maintaining a high level of protection against more severe infections, said Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong in a press conference on Friday (Sept 3).
The strength of vaccine protection will come down as antibodies wane several months after the vaccination, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung. In spite of this, vaccines continue to be very effective in protecting against severe illnesses and deaths, should one be infected, he said.
Internationally and in Singapore, more breakthrough infections - where fully vaccinated individuals are infected with the Delta variant - have been observed, said Mr Ong. Israel, among the countries in the world with the highest vaccination rates, began offering those aged 60 and above a third vaccine dose in late July. They are eligible five months after their second dose.
Other countries such as the United States, Britain, France and Germany have also announced booster campaigns.
Q: Why are healthcare workers not the first group to receive booster shots?
A: When it comes to booster shots, two groups of people were identified as priorities by the Expert Committee on Covid-19 Vaccination, said Singapore's director of medical services Kenneth Mak.
Immunocompromised patients may not have developed sufficient protection even after the first two doses are completed, said Associate Professor Mak. "This third dose is considered an expanded primary course of vaccination for them."
The second group comprises those aged 60 and above. Prof Mak said they are more likely to have worse outcomes if they do get infected, such as an increased risk of being admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) and needing oxygen support.
Migrant workers will, like everyone else, have, over time, a waning antibody response, said Prof Mak. But because they are generally younger, they do not need to be prioritised as much as those aged 60 and above.
But any migrant worker aged 60 and above can get vaccinated earlier as they fall into that same higher-risk group, Prof Mak said. The same goes for healthcare workers aged 60 and above.
Q: Will the rest of the population need to take booster shots?
A: Prof Mak said the rest of the population not aged 60 and above will be offered booster shots at a later point in time.
This would be in accordance with a subsequent set of expert committee recommendations, he said, after further study to determine the best time for them and what form of booster vaccination is the most appropriate.
Q: Will those who have taken two doses of the Covid-19 vaccines still be considered fully vaccinated if they do not take the booster shots?
A: They will still be considered fully vaccinated, said Mr Ong. Singapore is taking a pre-emptive move before antibodies wane further, even as ICU cases and the number of deaths still show that seniors are well protected against getting very ill, should they be infected, he said.