Free Covid-19 vaccinations will be offered to all Singaporeans and long-term residents who are currently here, though they will be voluntary, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.
Those who are at greatest risk will be given first priority, including healthcare workers and front-line personnel, as well as the elderly and vulnerable, he said in a televised address.
"Thereafter, the committee proposes to progressively vaccinate the rest of the population, and to cover everyone who wants a vaccination by the end of next year," said PM Lee.
A committee of doctors and experts has been set up by the Ministry of Health (MOH) to recommend a vaccination strategy for Singapore.
In a vote of confidence in the Singapore experts who have already given their approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, PM Lee added that he and his colleagues in Cabinet will be getting vaccinated early. PM Lee, who is 68, said: "This is to show you, especially seniors like me, that we believe the vaccines are safe."
His assurance comes as he announced yesterday that the Health Sciences Authority has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for pandemic use.
The first shipment of the vaccine is expected to arrive in Singapore by the end of this month, making the Republic one of the first to obtain it.
More vaccines will become available in the months ahead, he said, adding that if all goes to plan, Singapore will have enough vaccines for everyone here by the third quarter of next year.
PM Lee said the Government has been working to secure vaccine doses for its population since early in the pandemic.
He noted that while more than 200 vaccine candidates were being developed, not all would succeed.
"We started talking to the pharmaceutical companies early to understand the science, and identify the promising candidates and vaccines likely to reach production soon," said PM Lee.
Singapore has set aside more than $1 billion for this, and had signed advance purchase agreements and made early down payments for the most promising candidates, including with Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Sinovac.
The Republic had also made arrangements with pharmaceutical companies to facilitate their clinical trials and drug development in Singapore, and attracted a few to establish vaccine manufacturing capabilities here.
Citing Singapore's own efforts to develop a Covid-19 vaccine, PM Lee said this gave scientists and researchers here the opportunity to do cutting-edge work.
Early-stage clinical trials for a Covid-19 vaccine co-developed by Duke-NUS Medical School and American biotechnology company Arcturus Therapeutics are currently ongoing.
"It was also insurance, in case the global supply chain was disrupted," PM Lee said. "This way, we built up a diversified portfolio of options to ensure that Singapore would be near the front of the queue for vaccines, and not last in line."
While vaccinations are voluntary, PM Lee urged people here to get vaccinated when one is offered to them. "The more of us (that) are vaccinated, the harder it will be for the virus to spread, and the safer we will all be as a society," he said.
MOH's director of medical services Kenneth Mak said at a virtual press conference yesterday that while a vaccine will expedite recovery from the pandemic, it will take some time before the world returns to a pre-Covid-19 normalcy.
"Safe distancing and safe management measures continue to be critical until such a time when sufficient numbers of our population are protected," he said.