Man behind S’pore’s vaccination push is one of 32 to be recognised for managing impact of Covid-19

Mr Dinesh Vasu Dash said his role in the initiative is his proudest achievement over the past three years of the pandemic. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - The efforts to vaccinate Singapore’s population against Covid-19 were unprecedented in terms of speed and scale, recalled Mr Dinesh Vasu Dash, the man behind the nationwide vaccination push.

Not only did vaccination centres have to be quickly set up to administer jabs across the island, but the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine – the first to be available here – had to be stored at a temperature of minus 70 deg C, said the crisis strategy and operations group director at the Ministry of Health.

In addition, the mRNA vaccines had to be administered within six hours of being thawed, said the 48-year-old, who will receive the Public Service Star (Covid-19) award for his contributions to the nation’s fight against the pandemic.

“We needed a logistical chain of military precision and the limited vaccines had to be treated as liquid gold,” he said. Extensive efforts were also made to demystify the then-new vaccines and assure the public of their safety and efficacy, Mr Dinesh added.

His role in this initiative – which has enabled more than 17 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to be administered here to date – is Mr Dinesh’s proudest achievement over the past three years of the pandemic, he told The Straits Times.

Mr Dinesh is one of 32 people who will receive the Public Service Star (Covid-19) award, which is given to those who led major efforts that contributed significantly to the successful management of the pandemic here.

“I was blessed to have an outstanding team, which demonstrated commitment, passion and professionalism... to ensure that the impact of the pandemic on the lives and livelihoods of Singaporeans was minimal,” he said.

Meanwhile, another vaccination initiative was being conducted for seafarers calling at Singapore.

Ms Caroline Yang, president of the Singapore Shipping Association (SSA) and vice-chair of the International Chamber of Shipping, helped to set up the Covid-19 vaccination programme, dubbed SeaVax.

This was something that would not usually be within the scope of a trade association’s work, but “we just rolled up our sleeves and did whatever we needed to do”, said Ms Yang, 57, one of the award recipients.

“To date, over 1,000 seafarers from around the world who came to our port have received their vaccinations here,” she added.

Ms Caroline Yang, president of the Singapore Shipping Association and vice-chair of the International Chamber of Shipping, helped to set up SeaVax. PHOTO: SINGAPORE SHIPPING ASSOCIATION

Border restrictions introduced by many countries in the early days of the pandemic led to some 400,000 seafarers worldwide being stranded on vessels, unable to go ashore or be repatriated, she noted.

In 2020, the SSA led the Singapore Shipping Tripartite Alliance Resilience Fund Taskforce to raise more than $2 million to establish protocols for safe crew change.

Another award recipient is Dr Fidah Alsagoff, senior managing director of Temasek International, the commercial arm of Singapore investment firm Temasek Holdings.

The 58-year-old helped Singapore secure diagnostic instruments such as machines which enabled laboratories here to conduct reliable, high-volume testing for the coronavirus.

As head of Life Sciences and joint head of Enterprise Development Group (Singapore) at Temasek International, he also played a key role in securing antigen rapid test kits as well as medical equipment, such as ventilators and oxygen concentrators for critically ill Covid-19 patients.

Dr Fidah Alsagoff, senior managing director of Temasek International, helped Singapore secure diagnostic instruments. PHOTO: TEMASEK

Temasek and its partners focused on areas such as testing and diagnosis, as well as containment and contact tracing, said Dr Fidah. These efforts help to ensure communities stay prepared in the current pandemic as well as those in the future, he noted.

Mr Dinesh said greater “system-level” resilience is needed to battle future pandemics.

“We tend to build our institutions and capacities for maximal performance without buffer or spare capacity. Having a buffer, even a thin slice, would allow the system to cope with sudden surges, mitigate the immense strain on our healthcare system and prevent us from a nationwide shutdown.”

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