SINGAPORE - Travellers who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 may avoid having to serve a lengthy stay-home notice (SHN) when they return to Singapore in the future, Education Minister Lawrence Wong has suggested.
Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry coronavirus task force, said the Government would consider drastically reducing or even doing away with the two-week quarantine requirement if data shows vaccination significantly reduces transmission risks.
He said this was one of the potential "tangible benefits" for those choosing to be vaccinated, besides protection against the virus.
"Those who choose not to be vaccinated, you have to live with more frequent tests, you have to live with quarantine, you have to live with all of these other additional requirements," he said on Thursday (Jan 7) during an interview on CNA's Talking Point.
"If you have the vaccination, you travel to a high-risk place, you come back, can that SHN be shortened, or even done away with completely? That's the big question," said Mr Wong.
"We still don't know the extent to which a vaccination can completely - or how significantly - help reduce transmission risk. So those studies are still pending. If indeed the data shows that transmission risks can come down significantly with vaccination, then certainly, we will consider reducing drastically the SHN or even doing away with it."
Being vaccinated may also make it possible to travel abroad more freely, depending on the requirements in other countries, Mr Wong noted.
"Even without a vaccine today, many Singaporeans can already travel freely to other countries without a quarantine there because they regard Singaporeans as coming from a low-risk jurisdiction," said the minister.
"So I think with a vaccination it will certainly help, but those are regulations that are outside of our control."
The discussion hosted by CNA presenter Steven Chia also featured Associate Professor Vernon Lee, director of the communicable diseases division at the Ministry of Health, and Associate Professor Benjamin Ong, who chairs the expert committee on Covid-19 vaccination convened by the MOH.
Prof Lee debunked a number of rumours about the vaccine, including one that says it can cause cancer. "At this point, there is no evidence that this vaccine will result in such a side effect," he said in response to a question from a viewer. He added that most of the known side effects are mild, but the vaccine can cause severe allergic reactions in some people.
The messenger RNA (mRNA) used in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is currently the only one being administered here, also does not incorporate itself into human DNA, Prof Lee noted.
"In fact, after about 48 hours, it just dissipates in the body and it disintegrates, so there's no evidence at this point that there's any such concern," he said of the cancer rumour.
There is also no evidence that a patient who receives the vaccine will have difficulty getting pregnant, Prof Lee said in response to another question.
Prof Ong said the likelihood that the vaccine will cause long-term issues is "very remote".
Nonetheless, he said the expert committee decided to play it safe and has recommended that pregnant women wait until after they have given birth before being vaccinated.
Asked about the new strain of the virus that has emerged in Britain and spread to various countries, including Singapore, Prof Ong said mutations occur all the time, and added that the vaccine is likely to still work on the new strain. This is because the mutated virus features the same spike protein as the earlier strain used to develop the vaccine.
Singapore has also purchased a vaccine developed by the US pharmaceutical company Moderna, which similarly uses mRNA technology to introduce the genetic code to the body to produce a piece of the coronavirus known as a spike protein, thereby helping the patient's cells recognise and develop an immune response to Covid-19.
In addition, the Republic has also bought stocks of a more traditional inactivated virus vaccine produced by China's Sinovac.
Mr Wong said Singapore had to make "early bets" on these vaccines as long ago as April, before there was extensive clinical data on the efficacy of the various candidate vaccines being developed. This was to ensure Singapore would be near the front of the queue.
"Based on whatever preliminary data that was available then... we decided on the three that we have made advanced purchases for, with the aim of building a diversified portfolio of vaccines that will be safe and effective for use in Singapore," he said.
"We have three now, but that's not the end of it."