SINGAPORE - The Covid-19 vaccination drive kicked off in the private healthcare sector on Saturday (Jan 9), with 50 staff from the Parkway Pantai group receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech shot.
The shots were administered at two locations. Thirty doctors and nurses were given the jab at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, while another 20 got the vaccine at the Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Orchard.
Among those who received the vaccine at the Novena hospital were Parkway Pantai's senior executives and some of the hospital's infectious diseases physicians, who said they hoped to lead by example to reassure their colleagues who may be hesitant about receiving the mRNA vaccine.
Dr Prem Kumar Nair, chief executive for the Singapore operations division at Parkway Pantai, told the media as he received the shot in his left arm: "I echo what PM Lee said yesterday - it's painless, it's efficacious and it's important."
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had taken the Covid-19 vaccine on Friday morning, at the start of a nationwide drive to vaccinate staff across various public healthcare institutions.
Dr Prem thanked the Ministry of Health (MOH) for extending vaccinations beyond public hospitals, and said the group aims to vaccinate as many of its staff, temporary workers and vendors as possible over the next few weeks.
The healthcare group hopes to achieve a vaccination rate of 90 per cent among its front-line workers, who number more than 8,000. About 70 per cent of them have so far indicated that they would take the vaccine.
Covid-19 vaccinations are voluntary in Singapore.
Said Dr Prem: "We thought that we would start off today by having the leadership of Parkway Pantai have their vaccines. And this includes some of our key infectious disease physicians as well."
He added that there will be a few among the staff who may be worried about taking the vaccine due to concerns over side effects, and this fear is something the leadership wants to dispel by taking the lead and also through outreach sessions like townhall meetings.
Other than Dr Prem, who is 60, Parkway Pantai chief operating officer for Singapore operations Dr Noel Yeo, 40, and Dr Peter Chow, 46, chief executive of Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, were also vaccinated.
The group's infectious disease specialists Leong Hoe Nam, 50, and Asok Kurup, 53, also received the shot.
Dr Asok, an infectious disease specialist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, said that while media reports have highlighted instances of people experiencing severe allergic reactions to the shot, this was very rare.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had on Jan 6 released a report which found that only about 11.1 such reactions had occurred per million doses administered.
"So we are looking at a very rare occurrence, but even if such instances should happen, there are measures in place to treat them," he said.
For instance, those who received the vaccine were monitored for at least 30 minutes on site. Crash carts and monitors were also kept nearby, and accident and emergency doctors were asked to be on standby.
However, the doctors stressed that these were just precautionary measures.
Parkway Pantai aims to give most of its staff the first of the two required doses of the vaccine within the next three weeks, said Dr Yeo.
More of them will receive the vaccine from Monday.
All four of the group's hospitals - Gleneagles Hospital, Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital and Parkway East Hospital - will be used as vaccination centres for staff, and depending on supply, up to about 150 of them should be able to receive the vaccine at each site each weekday.
For now, the hospitals will order the vaccine doses from the Health Ministry a day in advance to reduce wastage, said Ms Chua Hui Ling, principal pharmacist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital. Messenger RNA vaccines are temperature-sensitive and close coordination is required for their storage and administration.
While the vaccines are kept frozen at -70 deg C, the hospitals receive thawed vials, each containing about five doses, in cooler boxes kept at between 2 and 8 deg C.
These vials can be kept at such refrigeration temperatures for a maximum of five days.
But before the doses can be administered, they must be warmed up to about 25 deg C and diluted. After this is done, the doses must be administered within six hours.
Ms Low Siew Yean, senior nurse manager at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said that arrangements have been made to ensure that staff show up for their vaccination appointments in groups of five.
Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital nurse educator Nursyahidah Abdul Rahim, 35, was one of the front-line workers who received the vaccine on Saturday.
She had been among the staff stationed at the Tuas Checkpoint to screen incoming visitors in the early days of the pandemic, and recalls boarding a bus of passengers from Wuhan, China, all of whom were symptomatic.
On her decision to get the vaccine, Ms Nursyahidah said: "We do our social distancing, we have learnt about personal hygiene, but just one piece was missing. And now it's finally complete. This vaccine is something that we've been waiting for."