'I'm old and dying, so what's the point of getting vaccinated?': Seniors in S'pore yet to get the Covid-19 jab

Some seniors were initially reluctant to take a Covid-19 shot until those close to them convinced them otherwise. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Diabetes and high blood pressure are already a part of 83-year-old Tay Seng Kee's life.

And even though his son and daughter-in-law have been persuading him to get vaccinated against Covid-19, he does not see the use of doing so.

With a hint of bitterness in his voice, the retiree, who declined to reveal his former occupation, told The Straits Times: "I'm already old and dying. So what's the point?"

He is not alone in thinking this way. Despite being the first age group here to be offered Covid-19 vaccination, those aged 70 and above now have the lowest take-up rate, having been overtaken by even those who were offered the jab only last month.

Seniors ST spoke to cited a variety of reasons for their reluctance to get vaccinated.

Ms Coreen Tan, 70, said that she was not comfortable with the mRNA technology used to manufacture the vaccines because it is "very new" and may have potential side effects.

The retiree, who used to work in the healthcare industry, said:

"If the young can have such a vigorous reaction as cardiac arrest, how can we be assured that the frail aged will not have long-term adverse effects yet to be discovered?"

The Ministry of Health (MOH) has pointed out that the mRNA platform for vaccines was already in development for many years before the pandemic.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also said that even though there was a "likely causal association" between coronavirus vaccines using mRNA technology and "very rare" heart inflammations, the benefits of the jabs outweigh their risks.

Madam S. Jaya, 75, said she did not wish to take the jab because of her history of vertigo.

The housewife is concerned about vaccine side effects and the unpredictability of her illness.

She said: "I don't want to make myself more sick. My vertigo may suddenly happen because of this injection."

She is also concerned that she may become a burden to her children, who are in their 50s. "I don't want people to look after me... It's my body - if anything happens to me, I don't want my children to suffer with me," she said.

Retiree Tan Peng Chew, 80, who did not reveal his former occupation, said he did not want to get the jab because of his history of health issues, including heart problems, high cholesterol and low blood pressure.

MOH has given the assurance that the Covid-19 vaccines are safe for those with chronic conditions such as hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes. But Mr Tan Peng Chew said in Mandarin: "I am too old for it and don't want to ask the doctors too many questions... There is no 100 per cent guarantee the vaccine is workable."

Mr Andrew Tan, 71, the managing director of a company in the maritime industry, noted that the vaccines in use in the national programme here have not been fully approved by the United States' Food and Drug Administration, and that approval is given only for use under its emergency use authorisation.

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While they were first on the list to get the Covid-19 vaccine, many seniors have yet to sign up for a jab. Volunteers such as Edmond Tan are now trying to convince seniors on the ground to get vaccinated.

He believes that the current pandemic is not an emergency.

More than four million people around the world have died of Covid-19, and the current global mortality rate for Covid-19 is about 2.2 per cent.

Elaborating, Mr Andrew Tan said Singapore's mortality rate of about 0.06 per cent is "exceedingly low" and the disease is "not as threatening as it has been made out to be".

Experts have cautioned that the death rate here has been kept low by tight Covid-19 measures, and that it could rise drastically, especially among the unvaccinated, when restrictions are loosened.

Mr Andrew Tan also noted that hundreds of thousands of people around the world have been treated for and recovered from Covid-19. "This proves there are readily available cure options," he said.

"This (pandemic) is considered an emergency only because of the fear that has been generated around it... The vaccines are experimental and there has been no third-party medical review of their efficacy and safety," he said, citing their short development time.

He also highlighted alternative views in the medical community that caution against taking mRNA vaccines. "These are professionals that have their reputation to maintain and have no hidden agenda to spread untruth, and I believe we are seeing more and more evidence of fatalities and casualties amongst those vaccinated of late, as they have warned the world," he said.

As a result, he said, any potential benefits of getting vaccinated did not outweigh the risks of doing so.

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But the expert committee on Covid-19 vaccinations here has dismissed such suggestions.

The committee has stated on multiple occasions, including in response to an open letter from five doctors in Singapore calling for a halt in vaccinating youth here, that the benefits of mRNA vaccines "continue to outweigh the risks".

Some seniors, like former mechanic Casey Law, 83, were initially reluctant to take a Covid-19 shot until those close to them convinced them otherwise.

Mr Law said he did not trust the vaccines because of the speed at which they had been developed.

He said: "I trust my immune system, and there is nothing wrong with me.

"Old people have a lot of health problems, and their immune system is not strong enough. Most of them are allergic to the vaccine. They also read stories about old people falling sick after taking the vaccine."

MOH has said that the vaccines were developed quickly in a concerted effort by scientists, governments and pharma sector. There was significant investment and dedication of resources by vaccine manufacturers and the ramping up of vaccine production; strong global partnerships between governments, researchers and manufacturers; and trials being carried out concurrently. The pandemic situation also allowed recruitment for trials to be done more quickly.

MOH has emphasised that safety and scientific or ethical integrity have not been compromised, and no shortcuts have been taken in developing the vaccines.

Mr Law was eventually persuaded by his son to go for vaccination, and received his second dose in April.

Mr Chan Hon Kee, 80, was reluctant to get vaccinated as he was concerned about side effects.

The former taxi driver said in Mandarin: "I think the vaccine is ineffective."

But he finally decided to receive the jab after much encouragement and persuasion from friends and family, getting his first dose on June 25.

Mr Chan, who will be receiving his second dose on Aug 6, said he feels relieved now that he has had the jab. But despite this, he is hesitant to encourage others to get vaccinated.

"It depends on the individual's decision," he said.

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