SINGAPORE - Steps are being taken to bring Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna's new bivalent vaccines into Singapore once they are available, said Singapore's director of medical services Kenneth Mak on Wednesday (Aug 24).
The bivalent vaccines would cover both the wildtype Covid-19 virus, as well as the Omicron variant, which includes the BA.4 and BA.5 strains, said Associate Professor Mak.
The boosters, which can be given to those aged 18 and above, target circulating variants more closely. The original mRNA vaccines largely target the wildtype virus, though they are still effective against Covid-19 variants, including Omicron.
Prof Mak stressed that the current vaccine is still effective in conferring protection, and that it is "prudent" for people to think about getting their vaccines as early as possible in the light of a possible Covid-19 wave at the end of the year.
"We've seen with our BA.5 wave, it came a little bit earlier than what we originally were anticipating and therefore one could be caught off guard," he said.
It would therefore be best to get vaccinated, if eligible, as soon as possible, he stressed.
He noted that the delivery date for Moderna's new vaccine is still not confirmed, though MOH anticipates that it could be ready in the later part of the year - around the last quarter.
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung also said on Wednesday that a second booster dose is now recommended for people aged 60 and above.
He noted that almost 80 per cent of the population has received booster shots, a key reason why Singapore could ride through the current BA.5 wave without tightening safe management measures - and without having many severe cases, or hospitals being overwhelmed.
As the situation in hospitals and residential care homes has improved, measures for in-person visits to hospitals and residential care homes will be eased from Sept 1.
In hospitals, two visitors per patient will be allowed at the bedside at each time, up from one, and visitors will have to abide by the hospital's visiting hours.
The same would be allowed in residential homes with each visit capped at one hour.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) had earlier announced the extension of visitor safe management measures at all hospital wards and residential care homes until Aug 31.
To prepare for a possible next wave, vaccination coverage will have to be expanded, said Mr Ong.
The Expert Committee for Covid-19 Vaccination recommends the second mRNA booster at least five months after the first booster dose.
Previously, those aged 80 years and older had been recommended to receive a second booster vaccine, and it was also offered to people aged 50 to 79 years.
Prof Mak said that the first booster confers good protection against hospitalisation and severe Covid-19 in people aged 60 to 79, and has helped the nation weather the current wave.
"However, as it has been over a year since we administered the first booster to this age group, we expect the protection to gradually wane," he added.
Therefore, Singapore needs to keep its vaccinations up to date, to prepare for possible future infection waves which could come as early as the end of the year.
Latest evidence indicates that a second booster can further strengthen vaccine effectiveness against severe disease, increasing from 94 per cent to 97 per cent in those aged 70 to 79, and from 97 per cent to 98 per cent for those aged 60 to 69.
Prof Mak noted that people who are medically vulnerable are also encouraged to receive their second booster, which will continue to be available for those aged 50 to 59 years old.
Those eligible for their primary series vaccination, first booster or second booster may receive their doses by walking into any of the 10 joint testing and vaccination centres (JTVCs) located across the island.
The full list of JTVCs, their locations and opening hours, can be found here.
Residents may also book an appointment at the JTVCs, participating Public Health Preparedness Clinics (PHPCs), or polyclinics via their SMS invitation.
Correction note: This story has been updated to reflect that director of medical services Kenneth Mak had said that Singapore is in talks with both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna for their bivalent vaccines to be made available here.