38,000 seniors remain unvaccinated against Covid-19, down from 200,000 in July 2021

Nearly 95 per cent of those aged 70 and up had completed their vaccination regime. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - About 38,000 seniors remain unvaccinated at this point, down from 200,000 a few months ago, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Wednesday (Jan 5).

He had previously said in July last year that 200,000 seniors had yet to take the jab.

Speaking at a virtual press conference by the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19, which he co-chairs, Mr Ong acknowledged on Wednesday that international data has shown the initial doses of vaccines provide weaker protection against the Omicron variant as compared with the Delta variant.

Protection against the Omicron variant provided by the initial doses also wanes typically after five to six months.

But he added: "However, boosters will restore the vaccine protection against infection and severe illnesses from Omicron. Vaccination and boosters therefore continue to be our primary response."

And despite the weaker protection, vaccines and boosters still help provide "substantial protection" against severe disease and hospitalisation for cases infected with the Omicron variant, said Mr Ong.

For instance, he said, Britain has estimated that being fully vaccinated is 72 per cent effective in preventing hospitalisation for such cases, while having a booster shot is 88 per cent effective in doing so.

Singapore's director of medical services Kenneth Mak, who was also at the press conference, added: "The overseas data shows that vaccination does make a difference in protecting individuals against infection, hospitalisation, severe infection and death, and this benefit is even stronger for those who have been fully vaccinated and who have received their booster dose."

Around the same time as the press conference, the Expert Committee on Covid-19 Vaccination issued a statement saying that those who had taken two or more doses of Sinovac's or Sinopharm's vaccines, which are non-mRNA vaccines, as part of a three-dose vaccination series, are strongly recommended to get one dose of an mRNA vaccine as a booster.

Those who took two doses of Sinovac's or Sinopharm's vaccines and then got an mRNA vaccine as their third dose should get an mRNA booster about five months after their last dose, while those who took Sinovac's or Sinopharm's vaccines as their third dose should get the mRNA booster within three months.

This is because of lower antibody levels generated by the third vaccine dose, said the expert committee.

Meanwhile, Sinovac's vaccine should be considered as a booster only for those who are medically ineligible to receive mRNA vaccines.

"All other persons should be boosted with the mRNA vaccines," said the committee.

During the press conference, the task force was asked whether the Novavax vaccine - which is expected to be available around the time those who took non-mRNA vaccines are due for their booster shots - will be accepted as a booster shot.

The Novavax vaccine is not an mRNA vaccine.

In response, Associate Professor Mak said the Health Sciences Authority is currently completing its evaluation of the vaccine and a statement will be issued soon.

He added that he anticipates the Novavax vaccine will be accepted as a booster shot.

"The evidence to date shows a better vaccine effectiveness against Delta and Omicron compared to some other non-mRNA vaccines that we have available in Singapore. So there is a very high likelihood that we will make further recommendations concerning the use of Novavax as a booster vaccine as part of the national vaccination programme," he said, adding that the expert committee will first need to make its recommendations on the vaccine.

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Mr Ong, giving an update on Singapore's vaccination programme, said that currently, about 50,000 jabs are being delivered every day. These include booster shots.

Prof Mak added that as at Monday, about 89 per cent of the population have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and more than 87 per cent of the population have been fully vaccinated. Nearly 95 per cent of those aged 70 and up have completed their vaccination regime, and more than 96 per cent of those aged between 60 and 69 have done so.

Forty-two per cent of the entire population have also received their booster shots.

Prof Mak said: "We urge as many people as possible who are eligible to come forward and receive their booster vaccinations as soon as possible... We are still seeing Delta infections, not just Omicron infections, and getting vaccinated and boosted protects you against both variants. There is no good reason to think that you may skip the booster vaccination simply because you think that Omicron infections are potentially less serious."

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