Nursing homes in Singapore prepping for Covid-19 vaccination; seniors share fears of side effects

Many of the elderly, who are not in nursing homes, cite worries about the safety and potential side-effects of the vaccine.
Many of the elderly, who are not in nursing homes, cite worries about the safety and potential side-effects of the vaccine.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Nursing homes have started identifying elderly residents suitable for Covid-19 vaccination.

St John's Home for Elderly Persons and the Methodist Welfare Services (MWS) Nursing Home-Yew Tee, for example, have identified those suitable and are in the process of getting consent from the seniors or their next of kin for the shots.

At the MWS Nursing Home-Yew Tee, about three in four of its 185 residents have been medically cleared for vaccination, its spokesman said.

Last week , the Government said that seniors aged 70 and above would be vaccinated earlier - from the end of January, instead of next month.

Many of the elderly who are not in nursing homes and interviewed by The Straits Times expressed a wait-and-see attitude towards getting vaccinated, citing worries about the safety and potential side effects of the vaccine.

Senior dance instructor Sitaravamma Sandrasegaren, 68, was among those hesitant.

She said: "I also do not have to be out of my home for long hours and Singapore has a low rate of infection at present, so I feel safe."

Like others interviewed, she said that her concerns about the vaccine intensified after news that over 30 seniors in Norway died after being vaccinated.

On Monday (Jan 18), the Norwegian health authorities said there was no evidence of a direct link between the deaths and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and that all those who died were already seriously ill before being vaccinated.

Other Singaporeans, like businessman David Gabriel, 76, are inclined to be vaccinated as he needs to travel for business in the region.

He has a daughter living in Bali and his father, 103, is in Australia.

Mr Gabriel is closely monitoring news of the vaccine, saying that he does not "want to put something in my body that creates more problems than it solves".

Social service agencies that work with the elderly say that the receptivity of elderly Singaporeans to the vaccine varies. Many, though, have questions about the safety, efficacy and necessity of the vaccine.

For example, some think it is not necessary as they feel they would not catch Covid-19, while others are thankful the vaccine is given free, said Lions Befrienders chairman Anthony Tay.

Dr Kelvin Phua, chief executive officer of Sata CommHealth, said it has put up common FAQs on its social media platforms to dispel some misconceptions or burning questions that seniors have.

SATA CommHealth has also conducted sessions to clarify information about the vaccine with its staff and encourage them to address the queries of the elderly.

Experts say visiting the elderly, especially those living alone , is one effective way to educate them about the vaccine.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said a series of FAQs in various languages, including dialects, and on various media platforms should be part of the outreach to seniors.

"Much as the policy temptation is to dwell on the benefits, the risks and uncertainties must be engaged and addressed. It is of utmost importance for people to know what they are getting themselves into and for them to decide what works best for them."

Associate Professor Tan also suggested avenues for medical counselling, where one can ask questions before agreeing to be vaccinated.

He added: "Where there are 'incidents' such as adverse reactions to the vaccine, this should be reported and as much facts and information be made available.

"The reality is that there are anti-vaxxers out there as well as people with good intentions but misinformed about the vaccine."

Member of Parliament Lim Wee Kiak said many of his residents were concerned about the vaccine as it did not have a long track record.

Dr Lim, an ophthalmologist, said: "I hope more reports on local data of the side effects of vaccination can be available and released to the public so more can be assured of their safety."