SINGAPORE - The country will move into a new phase of living with Covid-19 when vaccination-differentiated measures (VDS) are fully lifted from Oct 10.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) announced on Friday that VDS will no longer be required for events with more than 500 participants, nightlife establishments where there is dancing and dining at food and beverage establishments, including hawker centres.
Addressing the latest move in a Facebook post, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung noted: "This means that vaccination has become our primary defence against the virus."
He said: "While the situation remains stable now, new and more dangerous variants may surface in the northern winter. We need to get ourselves properly vaccinated in anticipation of that scenario. Do so early, rather than try our luck and not strengthen our protection when we have the time and space to."
After two years of putting up with restrictions to battle the Covid-19 virus, significant easing of safe management measures took place in late August, when masks were no longer required in most indoor settings except in healthcare settings and on public transport.
As things return to normalcy, the country will also transition to a new strategy of up-to-date vaccination, instead of counting the number of shots and boosters individuals receive. MOH said it will be similar to influenza vaccinations, where individuals are advised to take them periodically, so as to protect against new strains of the virus as they arise.
First, those aged five and above should complete three mRNA or Novavax/Nuvaxovid doses, or four Sinovac-CoronaVac doses, to achieve minimum protection.
Second, after achieving minimum protection, those aged 50 and above should receive an additional booster dose between five months and one year from their last dose.
Individuals will be considered to be up to date with their Covid-19 vaccination if they have received at least the minimum protection and their last vaccine dose was received within the past one year.
The ministry will roll out vaccination and booster jabs for two groups of children from Oct 25:
• Primary vaccination for children aged six months to four years. The Moderna vaccine is recommended for those aged six months to five years and the dosage is two doses of 25 micrograms each, spaced eight weeks apart.
The vaccine from Pfizer BioNTech/Comirnaty is a three-dose vaccine for children aged six months to four years and has been approved. It should be available by the end of the year.
From Oct 18, parents or guardians may register their interest for their child or ward to receive the Moderna/Spikevax vaccination at this website.
• Booster dose for children aged five to 11 years. They will receive the Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty vaccine, the only Covid-19 vaccine recommended for this age group.
Parents or guardians of eligible children will receive an SMS notification to book an appointment for the booster dose via the personalised booking link provided.
Local and international data showed that antibody levels and vaccine protection against Covid-19 hospitalisation decline with time in children aged five to 11, just as they do with adolescents and adults.
The Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty booster will help sustain protection against severe disease, MOH said. Side effects are generally mild, similar to those from the first two doses.
While clinical data showed that the risk of severe Covid-19 in young children is generally very low, there is still a higher risk of hospitalisation compared with older children and severe disease can occur, MOH said in its statement.
The Expert Committee on Covid-19 Vaccination has recommended the use of the bivalent vaccine to replace the current formulation, the ministry said.
MOH said that it will therefore replace the original Moderna/Spikevax vaccine with the updated bivalent version from Oct 17 and this will be for all adults aged 18 and above.
For those aged 50 and above, or for individuals who have yet to achieve minimum protection, they should take the bivalent vaccines, MOH added.
The Pfizer/Comirnaty bivalent vaccine is undergoing evaluation and is expected to be available by the end of 2022.
MOH also gave an update on the local Covid-19 situation.
Average daily infections in the community over a seven-day period rose from around 2,600 to 4,400 as at Thursday.
Hospitalised cases have also increased from 247 from a week ago to 342, and the number of cases in the intensive care unit has increased from nine to 13 within the same period.
This is likely due to increased social activities, safe management measures being stepped down, and also the BA.2.75 and BA.2.10 Omicron subvariants, which have been detected around the world, circulating in Singapore.
The increase in daily cases is not unexpected as Singapore opens up, said MOH.