SINGAPORE - Singapore's national Covid-19 vaccination programme kicked off on Wednesday (Dec 30) with the first Pfizer-BioNTech jabs being administered to 40 healthcare workers at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID).
This marks an important milestone in the Republic's fight against Covid-19, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong told reporters, noting that vaccination could help accelerate the resumption of economic as well as other community activities and pave the way for the reopening of more borders.
"We want to reassure Singaporeans that our priority over the next few months is to ensure that the vaccines that we use are safe and effective, and that we are able to roll out this programme to the whole population smoothly and in an orderly manner," said Mr Gan, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19.
The vaccination efforts will also be ramped up over the next few weeks and months, said Mr Gan during a visit to the NCID, with healthcare workers in other public health institutions and private hospitals next in line to be inoculated.
Subsequently, front-line workers and seniors will be vaccinated, with the doses being progressively extended to the rest of the population after that. "We aim to complete our coverage by the end of next year," he said.
Mr Gan added he was glad to see that a robust system has been put in place to ensure a smooth roll-out, given the challenges of administering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, which were first delivered to Singapore from Brussels earlier this month.
The process includes keeping the vaccines at minus 70 deg C in storage and ensuring that they stay at 2 to 8 deg C when they are transferred. They also have to be administered within a specific time frame.
That is why the roll-out of the vaccine is being done slowly and with caution, rather than "rushing into it and (rolling) out en masse", which could pose a multitude of difficulties and challenges, added Mr Gan.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also hailed the roll-out of the vaccine as a new chapter in Singapore's fight against the pandemic.
"The vaccine is key to living in a Covid-19 world, but it will still be some time before this storm will pass. Meanwhile, let's stay vigilant to keep ourselves and our loved ones healthy and safe," he wrote.
Mr Gan also reminded Singaporeans to stay on their guard against the virus.
Though community cases remain low, "the next outbreak is just one infection away", he said, adding that a high vaccination rate can protect the country from future waves of infection.
"We need to continue to remain vigilant and when the opportunity comes for us, we must step forward to get vaccinated to protect ourselves, protect one another and to keep Singapore safe," said Mr Gan.
Ms Sarah Lim, 46, a senior staff nurse at the NCID, was the first person in Singapore to receive the vaccine.
"I feel grateful and thankful for being the first to be vaccinated. I would encourage (others) to go for it," she told reporters after receiving the shot.
Thursday (Dec 31) also marks a year since China alerted the world to the an outbreak of the coronavirus, which has since infected 82 million people worldwide and claimed the lives of about 1.8 million people.
There were 27 new coronavirus cases confirmed in Singapore on Wednesday (Dec 30), taking the country's total to 58,569.