Adult vaccine subsidies, help for disadvantaged groups among measures proposed by HealthySG Taskforce

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health Amrin Amin, who chairs the the HealthySG Taskforce, at Kok Fah Technology Farm, where the Taskforce's recommendations were announced. ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY

SINGAPORE - Adults will soon be able to get subsidies for vaccines recommended under the National Adult Immunisation Schedule while disadvantaged groups will earn incentives when they join healthy living activities like nutrition workshops.

These are some of the measures proposed on Sunday (July 28) by the HealthySG Taskforce, which was formed last November to promote healthier living.

Many of the recommendations target lifestyle habits, such as piloting new smoking cessation programmes and co-funding showers and lockers at workplaces to encourage people to cycle or walk to work.

Another aim over the next two years is to increase the number of hawker stalls that offer at least two healthier options from the 3,500 or so now to around 3,900.

Other proposals leverage technology, such as using wearable devices to capture a person's biometric information and provide them with personalised health nudges, and creating a Lifelong Virtual Health Booklet to consolidate health data.

Most of the 11 recommendations will be implemented by next year.

The Taskforce comprises the Ministries of Health, Culture, Community and Youth, Transport, National Development and Social and Family Development as well as the Health Promotion Board (HPB), Sport Singapore, the People's Association, Housing Development Board (HDB), Urban Redevelopment Authority and Early Childhood Development Agency.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health Amrin Amin chairs the body.

The Taskforce engaged almost 300 Singaporeans aged 18 to 60 from diverse backgrounds, including professionals in public health, health technology and behavioural insights, to devise the recommendations.

The Health Ministry said introducing vaccine subsidies for adult Singaporeans and permanent residents is aimed at increasing low take-up rates and reducing the incidence of preventable diseases.

The National Adult Immunisation Schedule was introduced in 2017 to help people from the age of 18 make more informed decisions about recommended vaccines, which are Medisave deductible.

But the flu and pneumococcal vaccines have take-up rates of only around 13 per cent for those aged 65 to 74.

The MOH will harness other initiatives such as public education to try to lift this to over 50 per cent within five years from the roll out of the subsidies.

The Taskforce is also providing incentives for lower-income families to complete activities like supermarket tours, healthier eating trails and cooking classes in a bid to get them to adopt healthy habits.

Population surveys have shown that disadvantaged groups, such as lower income families, generally smoke more, have higher body mass index, exercise less and eat more unhealthily.

Under the incentives programme, they will get HPB's Healthpoints that can be used to redeem rewards like supermarket vouchers or free healthy grocery packs.

Trained HPB health ambassadors will support families with their progress in the programme monitored through surveys, said the HPB.

The programme will be launched in the second quarter of next year, with the aim of reaching at least 15,000 residents while expanding the topics to include smoking cessation, mental wellness and health screening.

Sociology professor Tan Ern Ser thinks the programme will enhance awareness of a healthy lifestyle, but whether that will translate into actual practice is another question.

"My view is that it is unlikely to be sustainable at the level of individuals, and at the level of the agencies involved, my sense is that such initiatives tend to be short-lived as they entail sustained enthusiasm and resources over time and changes in personnel," noted Prof Tan, who is from the National University of Singapore.

"If we can raise (the number of) healthy lifestyle ambassadors among low-income residents, as well as involve more people from each households, there would be a higher chance of sustainability (because of the) social support and a supportive environment, together with the easy availability and affordability of healthy food options."

The topic of healthy eating was also the focus of another recommendation - incorporating a health component as part of the score in Price-Quality tenders for new eating houses leased from the HDB.

The Housing Board has awarded 10 tenders so far and will tender 30 more in the next five years.

The Taskforce will publish a report detailing its recommendations at the end of the year.

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