Vaccination helps protect against new Covid-19 variants: MOH

People waiting to receive their Covid-19 vaccination at Hong Kah North Community Club on March 17, 2021. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - More cases of worrisome variants that are circulating around the world have been detected here, and while vaccination may not prevent a person from getting Covid-19, it can protect people from becoming severely ill with the disease, the authorities said.

Ministry of Health (MOH) director of medical services Kenneth Mak said that of the 40 Covid-19 cases in the Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) cluster, the nine who had received full doses of the Covid-19 vaccinations were either asymptomatic or exhibited mild symptoms, and none required oxygen support.

Seven were staff while the other two were patients, he said on Tuesday (May 4) at a press conference by the Covid-19 multi-ministry taskforce.

The remaining 31 people were either partially or not at all vaccinated. Of the latter group of unvaccinated individuals, seven required oxygen therapy, said Associate Professor Mak.

One of them, an 88-year-old woman who was being treated in Ward 9D, died of Covid-19 complications last Saturday.

Prof Mak said that the TTSH cluster had arisen from a viral variant, but the vaccine appears to have done relatively well against it.

"In those who had received full vaccination, they had demonstrated evidence of antibodies to the spike protein of the virus, which is a good response to vaccination, he said.

Five of the cases from the TTSH cluster have the B.1.617.2 variant that originated in India, including the 46-year-old nurse who was the first detected case in the cluster.

She had received two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine and suffered mild symptoms of a cough, sore throat and body aches though she was infected.

"The presence of these viral variants of concern amongst our local cases affirms our strategy to vaccinate all healthcare workers and prioritise vaccination for older Singaporeans," said Prof Mak.

"Had we not done so, the TTSH cluster would have been significantly larger at this time, and the likelihood of that cluster getting out of control that much greater.

"It is therefore a reminder to all of us that we should get ourselves vaccinated and protected when our time comes and we cannot afford to be complacent," he added.

Other variants that have been identified in locally-transmitted cases here include the B.1.1.7 that originated in the United Kingdom, the B.1.351 that was first detected in South Africa and the P.1 variant that originated in Brazil.

At the press conference, task force co-chair, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, made a call for people, particularly the elderly who are more vulnerable to developing severe Covid-19 disease if infected, to get vaccinated.

"The Covid-19 vaccine is effective in preventing symptomatic disease for the vast majority of those vaccinated, but it does not eliminate the risk of infection completely," said Mr Gan.

"Locally, we have seen some cases who have been infected despite completing the full doses of vaccination. But because of vaccination, these cases are either asymptomatic or had mild symptoms, and none has required oxygen so far."

Therefore, vaccination remains an important tool to help lower the risk of infection and severe disease, he said.

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