SINGAPORE - More than 50,000 active taxi and private-hire car drivers will be offered the chance to get their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine by the end of the week, as the effort to vaccinate front-line land transport workers kicks into higher gear.
About 300 drivers got their first jabs at the vaccination centre in the former Hong Kah Secondary School on Tuesday (Feb 23), the first day of the vaccination exercise for the point-to-point sector.
Eligible cabbies and private-hire drivers will progressively receive SMSes with a unique link for them to book their vaccination appointments online at a time and place that is most convenient for them.
These drivers can get their jabs at any of the 14 vaccination centres, 20 polyclinics, or 22 Public Health Preparedness Clinics currently operating as vaccination sites across the island.
The latest vaccination drive follows exercises last month to vaccinate aviation, maritime and public transport workers last month.
It is a joint effort by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the Ministry of Health (MOH), supported by the National Taxi Association (NTA), the National Private Hire Vehicles Association (NPHVA), and the taxi and private-hire vehicle operators.
Speaking to reporters at the vaccination centre on Tuesday, Senior Minister of State for Transport, Dr Amy Khor, strongly encouraged drivers who are offered the vaccine to take it up.
She said: "Vaccination is another means to protect themselves, their families and their community. It will give them greater peace of mind, as well as give greater assurance to their commuters."
"If they wait, then whether they will be able to get (another) appointment really depends on the take-up rate, as well as the supply of vaccines that comes through."
Dr Khor also expressed her appreciation to the taxi and private-hire car operators, as well as the NTA and NPHVA for their support.
She said: "Some of the association leaders who are actually drivers themselves have led by example... they are the first few... drivers to be vaccinated today."
Likewise, the senior management of the taxi and private-hire car operators have opted to be vaccinated, she added.
Dr Khor also gave an update on the overall effort to vaccinate more than 80,000 land transport workers, including cabbies and private-hire drivers.
As at Feb 14, more than 14,000 public transport workers from the bus and train operators had received their first jabs, and more than 10,000 had received their second doses, completing the full vaccine regimen.
On the latest vaccination exercise, LTA chief executive Ng Lang said in a statement: "Vaccination can give our taxi and (private-hire) drivers additional peace of mind by ensuring protection for them and their families."
"It will also give assurance to those who take taxis and private-hire cars, and contribute to the overall community resilience against Covid-19."
Labour MP and National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) director Yeo Wan Ling said the NTA and NPHVA have been working closely with point-to-point drivers and tripartite partners to offer a safe commuting experience since the start of the pandemic.
She said: "They have been maintaining good personal hygiene, keeping up the cleanliness of their vehicles and practising safe management measures while ferrying commuters. Our drivers also want to do their part in Singapore's vaccination strategy. This move will further protect them, their families, as well as our commuters."
ComfortDelGro taxi driver Tan Eng Chuan, 54, said on Tuesday he decided to get vaccinated as he felt a responsibility to the public to do so. While he felt some numbness after his jab, he was back behind the wheel in no time.
With an eight-year-old child at home, Mr Tan said the vaccine and regular cleaning of his cab help put his mind at ease.
Mr Tham Yuet Kok, 72, who has been a taxi driver for more than 40 years, initially had concerns about the vaccine's possible side effects. His family also had doubts about the jab.
But he said educational campaigns on TV and radio have helped to change their minds. "I meet different passengers every day, so it is better to protect myself and my family," he added.
Grab driver Joseph Goh, 55, who is an NPHVA committee member, said he hoped that taxi and private-hire car operators can offer schemes such as rental waivers to reassure drivers worried about income loss due to possible side effects from the vaccine.
Grab Singapore's managing director Yee Wee Tang said in a statement that the firm will extend its group prolonged medical leave insurance to help drivers cover any potential loss in income should they become hospitalised due to side effects from the vaccine.
"We are supportive of the efforts by the authorities to offer vaccination to our active driver-partners. Getting vaccinated is important as it not only protects them, but also their loved ones. It is also an important step in helping Singapore move into recovery mode," Mr Yee said.
Grab had said earlier this month that it intends to have all of its drivers and delivery riders in the region vaccinated by the end of next year.
Gojek said its drivers will also be covered for any potential loss in income should they fall ill due to any side effects from the vaccine.
Said Gojek Singapore general manager Lien Choong Luen: "We will actively encourage driver-partners to take up the vaccination when their turn comes."