With the flu season just around the corner, Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) has started a vaccination drive to help prevent elderly residents from falling ill.
Its staff, aiming to help around 700 people, have been going to senior activity centres in the heartland to administer free influenza and pneumococcal vaccinations.
"We want to make it really accessible for them," said Adjunct Assistant Professor Angela Chow, of TTSH's Institute of Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology. "There are seniors who cannot afford these vaccines, and they also tend to be the ones who are at the highest risk."
Many seniors do not get these vaccines because of the cost and inconvenience involved. A flu vaccine costs between $20 and $25 at polyclinics, while the pneumococcal vaccine for adults - which protects against pneumonia - costs around $100. "Flu can lead to pneumonia or even an ICU (intensive care unit) stay for the elderly," said Dr Hanley Ho, who is also from the institute.
Pneumonia is the second most common cause of death in Singapore after cancer. Last year, it accounted for one in five deaths here.
Doctors worked with staff at the various senior activity centres before the vaccination drive to raise awareness on the importance of vaccinations. Dr Ho said some people mistakenly believe that vaccinations are unsafe for them if they have a chronic medical condition or used to have a serious illness such as cancer. Others think the influenza vaccine does not work, as they still fall ill after being vaccinated.
"What many people call the flu isn't influenza, but a cold," said Adjunct Associate Professor Lim Poh Lian, also of the TTSH institute.
"This leads to misconceptions about the effectiveness of the flu vaccine. It's actually 70 to 90 per cent effective in a good year."
The peak flu periods here are: December to February and May to July. As influenza viruses change constantly, people are usually recommended to get vaccinated yearly.
"We try our best to bring in services like this, so our elderly don't have to go so far," said Ms Lucy Tan, cluster manager at Peace-Connect Cluster Operator, where vaccinations were given out on Wednesday.
Mr Cheok Hock Bee, 88, who was vaccinated there on Tuesday, said: "It was nothing, like an ant bite. When they start to poke the needle in, I always turn my head away."