Singapore working to secure multiple Covid-19 vaccines instead of relying on one: Gan Kim Yong

Mr Gan emphasised that even when a vaccine becomes available, it may not be possible to vaccinate the entire population. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Singapore will work towards securing a "portfolio" of Covid-19 vaccines to cater to different segments of the population instead of relying on any one vaccine, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said on Tuesday (Nov 10).

He said details about which vaccines will make the list and which segments of the population will receive a vaccine are still being worked out.

Speaking during a virtual press conference by the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19, Mr Gan noted that the application of a vaccine will have to take into account varying efficacy and safety profiles for different groups.

"Some vaccines may be effective for different segments of the population. Some may not be effective for children, for example, and some may not be effective for seniors."

Mr Gan added that even when vaccines become available, it will have to be given out progressively as it is not possible to vaccinate the entire nation at once.

He said healthcare workers fighting the virus on the front lines will likely get first priority, followed by vulnerable groups like seniors, who may develop more severe symptoms as a result of infection, provided the vaccines are suitable for them.

The Health Ministry's director of medical services, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak noted that one vaccine candidate developed by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer was recently found to be more than 90 per cent effective.

While this is welcome news, Prof Mak said more information about the Pfizer vaccine and others that are close to finishing phase three trials is needed.

For instance, if vaccines do not provide long-lasting immunity, a patient may need repeated vaccinations instead of a single dose.

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Prof Mak noted that there are also efforts to promote local development of a vaccine. He cited an ongoing trial involving a partnership between the United States pharmaceutical company Arcturus Therapeutics and Duke-NUS Medical School.

"We are hopeful that these studies, these collaborations, will give us a suite of vaccine candidates that can provide good results for our population," said Prof Mak.

Mr Gan said negotiations with various pharmaceutical companies that are conducting clinical trials are ongoing.

He added that an expert committee on Covid-19 vaccination set up last month will assess the data coming out of the trials and advise the ministry on its vaccination strategy.

Mr Gan emphasised that even when a vaccine becomes available, it may not be possible to vaccinate the entire population. Depending on the nature of the vaccine, the ministry may not intend to, he added.

(From left) Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong and Education Minister Lawrence Wong speaking at the virtual press conference on Nov 10, 2020. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

"In the meantime, it is important to continue to ensure that our safe distancing measure or precautionary measures are in place, and we continue to observe personal hygiene and so on. This will help us to reduce the overall infection rate in Singapore."

Responding to a question on the committee, Prof Mak said its members come from different sectors and agencies, including both academic and clinical institutions.

He said privileged information obtained by the ministry will be given to the committee, subject to a confidentiality agreement, to help it conduct a detailed review and make recommendations.

More details on the committee's mission and composition will be released soon, Prof Mak said. He added that the ministry will also begin educating the public on the importance and benefits of vaccination so that the public can make informed decisions about participating in vaccination efforts.

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