SINGAPORE - The green light has been given for those aged 12 to 15 to get vaccinated against Covid-19 with the Pfizer-BioNTech jab, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Tuesday (May 18).
At a virtual press conference, Mr Ong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19, said that the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has extended its authorisation for those in the age group to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
The decision was supported by the expert committee on Covid-19 vaccines here, he added.
"Both teams (expert committee and HSA) have assessed that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine demonstrated high efficacy and safety for this age group," said Mr Ong.
He said that the Ministry of Education (MOE) would work with the Ministry of Health (MOH) to plan the vaccination programme for this age group, and that more details would be provided soon.
The announcement comes at a time when a number of schoolchildren have tested positive for the virus.
Also at the press conference, MOH's director of medical services Kenneth Mak said more children have been infected with Covid-19 this year compared with 2020.
Associate Professor Mak added that children are less vigilant and disciplined when following safe measures. Vaccination, he noted, could protect not just children but also the adults around them.
But he added that the authorities have not yet decided whether to prioritise vaccinations for children, and that this decision would be made at a later date.
Finance Minister Lawrence Wong noted that Singapore has multiple tracks in its vaccination programme, including one that focuses on those in the education sector - teachers, staff and students.
Mr Wong, a co-chairman of the task force, added that teachers have already been vaccinated along with students in university hostels.
These students were offered the shot due to the communal setting they live in, which poses a higher risk of infection.
"So both MOH and MOE will be now looking at vaccination as a next step under the education track for schoolgoing children, and we will update in due course," said Mr Wong.
Addressing any potential concerns parents might have about the safety of their children, Prof Mak said that the vaccine is not only safe for those aged 12 to 15, but it is also as effective as it would be for adults.
"So I would encourage parents that when the opportunity is available for your children to get vaccinated, not to turn away and deny your children that opportunity for them to get that protection from the virus," he said.
All centre-based tuition centres and enrichment classes have had to shift to virtual lessons till the end of phase two (heightened alert) on June 13, or until further notice is given.
All schools will start full home-based learning (HBL) from May 19 until May 28, when the school term ends.
This applies to all primary, secondary and junior college students, as well as those from Millennia Institute and special education schools.
Prior to the announcement on Tuesday, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was approved here only for those aged 16 and older.
But in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration had on May 10 expanded the emergency-use authorisation for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, allowing it to be used on those aged 12 to 15.
The day after, then Health Minister Gan Kim Yong told Parliament that Singapore's HSA was evaluating if the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is safe and effective for those aged 12 to 15.
Mr Gan added that initial data provided by both companies at the time they were granted interim authorisation for the use of their vaccines in Singapore - under the Pandemic Special Access Route - did not include data on their use in younger populations.
However, supplementary data was later submitted for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for HSA's evaluation.
The HSA will evaluate the Moderna vaccine - the only other vaccine currently approved for use here - for the younger population when the data has been submitted.
As at Tuesday, the Moderna vaccine is still approved only for those aged 18 and above here.