SINGAPORE - More details of the effort to inoculate Singaporeans against Covid-19, including the different phases of the vaccination programme and who will go through them, will hopefully be released by as early as January, said Education Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (Dec 22).
The exact details on the roll-out of the vaccine would depend on multiple variables, including their supply and delivery schedule, and when other vaccines get authorised for use here, added Mr Wong, who co-chairs the Multi-Ministry Taskforce on Covid-19.
These factors are still uncertain for now, he said.
"When we have greater certainty of when, what sort of supply (and) delivery schedule we can expect in Singapore, that will be matched with the vaccinations programme, the different phases of vaccination," said Mr Wong, a day after Singapore received its first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
The minister was speaking to reporters at the Ministry of Education headquarters on tighter border measures for travellers from the United Kingdom, where a highly contagious strain of the virus has been circulating.
Asked for an estimate on the frequency of vaccines coming in, Mr Wong said it is premature to do so, given that other vaccines which Singapore has advance purchase agreements for have not yet been authorised for use here.
These include those by Moderna in the United States and Sinovac in China.
But the Government does have a rough sense of when the vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Sinovac are going to arrive, said the minister.
"Assuming all three are authorised for pandemic use... we do have some rough indication," he said. "But it's still early days, it's still very preliminary, and it can change."
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been approved by the Health Sciences Authority in Singapore for individuals 16 years and above.
Mr Wong said that as previously announced by the task force, priority for the vaccines will be given to groups such as healthcare and front-line workers.
The first vaccines will be administered to these workers some time between the end of the year and January or February, he said.
"I think it will be some time before we can talk about opening up and offering the vaccine to the broader population," he added.
The roll-out to the Singapore population will also take place over several months, and if all goes to plan, Singapore will have enough vaccines to inoculate everyone by the third quarter of 2021. But if other factors arise, the vaccination programme could be pushed back to the end of 2021 or beyond. Or if some vaccines arrive earlier, this could be brought forward, said Mr Wong.
Asked about the spread of the new and seemingly more infectious virus strain that has emerged in Britain, Mr Wong said the new strain has not yet been detected in Singapore.
Asked if the Government is concerned that the vaccines that have arrived would not be effective against this latest strain, he said: "That is uncertain; this is part of the question that I think scientists everywhere are asking.
"And I am sure our scientists and experts, together with experts everywhere in the world, will be asking these questions and seeking answers."
As for what Singapore would do differently if the new strain is detected here, Mr Wong said the country will have to be extra cautious in implementing existing safeguards against the virus, including stepping in quickly to isolate close contacts each time an infected person is identified, to contain and ring fence a possible cluster.
"But before we even get there, we try our best to keep our borders secure," said Mr Wong.
This is why Singapore on Tuesday announced that it will deny entry as well as transit to all long-term pass holders and short-term visitors with recent travel history to the United Kingdom, he noted.
Still, no measure is 100 per cent foolproof, and the strain could still come through another country, he added.
"Again, we are in a new situation, we have to stay vigilant. We have to monitor how the virus is spreading, how the new strain is spreading everywhere in the world, and then we have to constantly adjust our measures at the borders and within the community accordingly," he said.