Covid-19 vaccine take-up rate for seniors in S'pore expected to rise: Experts

Seniors waiting to get their Covid-19 vaccination at Hong Kah North Community Club on March 17, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - While Singapore's vaccine roll-out has been making good progress, the take-up rate for seniors aged 70 and older could be lower than for those who are younger because of factors such as mobility issues and lower digital literacy, said experts.

Still, more seniors are expected to sign up for jabs in the coming months as more gain confidence in the vaccine after seeing their peers or family members go for it, they added.

The experts were commenting on figures given in Parliament earlier this month which indicated that about 60 per cent of eligible seniors aged 70 and above had received the Covid-19 jab or booked their vaccination appointments.

This is lower than the close to 70 per cent of eligible seniors aged 60 to 69 who have done so, although those aged 70 and above were the first in the general population to be eligible to receive the jabs.

Assistant Professor Rahul Malhotra, head of research at Duke-NUS Medical School's Centre for Ageing Research and Education, said seniors aged 70 and older are more likely to have mobility limitations and vision and hearing problems than those aged 60 and older, based on data collected by the centre.

"The proportion of people who are not able to go down to vaccination centres due to mobility limitations or sensory problems is likely higher... contributing to their lower vaccination take-up rate," he said.

This view was echoed by Yio Chu Kang MP Yip Hon Weng, former group chief of the Silver Generation Office under the Agency for Integrated Care, who noted that the issue can be addressed by sending mobile vaccination teams to housing estates.

Madam Choong Mi Lan, 84, found it difficult to get to Jalan Besar Community Club - the nearest vaccination centre to her home in Potong Pasir - on her own. "I have some problems with my vision, so it can be tiring to go to places that are farther away," she said.

But a shuttle bus service provided by the residents' committee in her neighbourhood made it more convenient for her to get the jab, and she did so in late February, about a week after the shot was made available to her. She had also been urged to do so by her son.

Sata CommHealth medical director Cheryl Glenn noted that those aged 70 and older tend to have multiple health conditions. "Though this is actually a stronger indication (that they should take) the vaccine, many elderly... see their condition as a reason to not take the vaccine," said Dr Glenn.

Education and literacy issues may be another factor, said Dr Malhotra, who noted that there is a higher proportion of individuals with no formal education or only up to primary school education among those aged 70 and older, compared with those aged 60 to 69.

More seniors are expected to sign up for jabs in the coming months. PHOTO: ST FILE

Mr Anthony Tay, chairman of social service agency Lions Befrienders, said that such seniors with little or no education may not have access to much objective information and usually make decisions about the vaccine on secondary sources of information such as their own social networks. "Some do not find it necessary as they feel that those around them are unlikely to contract Covid-19," he added.

Sembawang GRC MP Lim Wee Kiak said grassroots and community volunteers involved in outreach efforts to seniors will continue to help allay their fears and improve understanding about the vaccines.

Mr Sayanta Basu, 54, who works in fintech, said his family initially had concerns about whether it would be safe for his bedridden father, who is 91 and has a respiratory condition, to be vaccinated.

But a consultation with his father's doctor gave him the assurance that it would be safe, he said. An ambulance service was engaged and his father got the jab at a vaccination centre last month.

Professor Ooi Eng Eong of Duke-NUS Medical School said that the overall vaccination rate, rather than the take-up rate among seniors, influences the level of herd immunity that can be achieved in Singapore. A vaccination rate of about 80 per cent is likely to be needed to attain herd immunity here, he added.

"Despite aiming for an overall high vaccination rate, it would still be advisable for as many seniors as possible to be vaccinated. This is because if sporadic cases were to occur among seniors, they will be at risk of severe Covid-19," he said.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.