SINGAPORE - Booster shots for the Covid-19 vaccine may begin around Chinese New Year next year, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Thursday (July 8).
Mr Ong was responding to questions by members of the public about living with Covid-19 through an Instagram live broadcast.
Members of the public asked Mr Ong if booster shots for the Covid-19 vaccine could be expected in the near future.
Mr Ong replied that those who are fully vaccinated most likely need booster shots and the authorities are looking into this, said Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao, which reported on the Instagram live session.
If booster shots are needed, people may be allowed to take them around Chinese New Year, which is in February next year.
He added that since the vaccines are effective for between one and two years, the boosters may be needed to augment immunity and better fight against new variants that may emerge.
"The Chinese New Year in February next year will be about a year after the (national vaccination drive) was launched. That may be when people would start to take the booster shots," the co-chair of the Covid-19 multi-ministry task force said.
He added that current vaccine supplies are enough to vaccinate the population, but if booster shots are needed, Singapore might need to order more.
The Republic's vaccination programme began in December last year, starting off with healthcare workers, and the Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty and Moderna mRNA vaccines are being used.
In April, Singapore's director of medical services, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, said those who have been fully vaccinated may be protected for 15 to 18 months.
As Covid-19 becomes endemic around the world, Singapore may have to sustain a comprehensive, multi-year vaccination programme, said the co-chairs of the task force, who penned their broad plans for the new normal in The Straits Times last month.
They added that booster shots may be needed in the future to sustain a high level of protection.
Mr Ong, Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong are co-chairs of the task force.
In an ST report on June 26, Singapore Medical Association president Tan Yia Swam said recommendations will be made on the need for regular booster shots once more data on the long-term effectiveness of the vaccines is available.
During the Instagram live session, Mr Ong also said the authorities have not ruled out the possibility of using another type of vaccine for the booster shots. This means those who take the Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty shots may not need to stick to the same vaccine for the booster.
Mr Ong added that mixing vaccines is believed to be feasible and the authorities here and abroad are studying the effectiveness of this.
Last month, an ST report stated that some countries were planning to use different vaccines for first and second doses because of concerns over vaccine supply or side effects linked to a particular vaccine.
For instance, Canada has given the green light for people who received a first shot of AstraZeneca vaccine to get a different vaccine for their second dose.
Experts said mixing vaccines should work well to prevent Covid-19 infections, but scientists do not know what the actual efficacy rate of protection is when vaccines are used this way. Different vaccines could trigger immune responses in different ways.
On Wednesday, Prof Mak said those who have taken the Sinovac or other types of vaccines, and still wish to take an mRNA vaccine, can do so, though data on the effectiveness of using two different vaccines is still lacking.
Responding to questions about travel, Mr Ong said on the Instagram live session that those who have been fully vaccinated will be first in line to travel abroad for leisure.
"If you have been vaccinated, you can imagine that one day you can fly to Germany to watch football without having to quarantine and you don't need to be put on stay-home notice after returning to Singapore. You only need to be tested for Covid-19."
He added: "If you want to travel, it's best to get vaccinated first. When overseas travel resumes, it's likely that only those (who) have been vaccinated can go abroad."
In an interview with ST on July 1, Mr Ong had said Singapore may allow leisure travel by the end of the year, and likely destinations include the United States, Hong Kong and some parts of the European Union, where vaccination rates are rising.
Possible destinations would be countries with high vaccination rates and which have seen downward trends in their infection rates.
For those fully vaccinated, the stay-home notice could be replaced with Covid-19 tests.
Mr Ong also added during the interview that both Hong Kong and Singapore are in a good position to relook a travel arrangement which has been deferred twice.