The national effort to vaccinate the population will require considerable resources and will be one of Singapore's key focus areas this year, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong as he fleshed out the country's vaccination strategy yesterday.
"Vaccinations will be a key enabler allowing us to return to normalcy," he told Parliament yesterday. He said this is a new line of defence that Singapore must put in place while the global situation remains volatile, and it involves a massive logistical exercise.
"We have secured enough vaccines for the whole population. Every vaccine approved for use will meet all our safety and efficacy requirements," he said.
Sharing some details of the programme, Mr Gan said people will need to make a booking before visiting vaccination centres for the Covid-19 shot, and will not get to choose the vaccine they want.
Vaccinated individuals will get a physical card, but can also check their vaccination status online.
Following the first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine last month, Mr Gan said, more vaccines are expected to arrive here in the next few months, including those by United States firm Moderna and China's Sinovac.
"If all goes according to schedule, we will have enough vaccines for everyone by the third quarter of this year," said the minister.
Healthcare workers and other Covid-19 front-line staff will be first in line for the vaccine, followed by the elderly, those at greater risk of severe disease, and those in jobs or settings where risk of a super-spreading event is high, including migrant workers. Vaccinations will then be progressively broadened to include other Singaporeans and long-term residents.
Mr Gan urged people to get vaccinated, though vaccination is voluntary. "This will not only protect yourself, but also indirectly protect others who cannot be vaccinated due to medical reasons. This collective protection will be more effective the more people are vaccinated."
To ensure vaccine access, Mr Gan said Covid-19 vaccination will be free for all Singaporeans, permanent residents and long-term residents - about 5.7 million people.
He urged people not to dawdle: "The best time to vaccinate is now. If people wait until an outbreak has happened to get themselves vaccinated, it will be too late, both to protect themselves and to prevent the outbreak in the first place."
He stressed that the Health Sciences Authority will allow a Covid-19 vaccine to be used only if it is assessed to be sufficiently efficacious and safe for use, and only if the benefits are assessed to outweigh the risks of any potential adverse effects from the vaccination.
To further give people peace of mind, the Health Ministry will also introduce a vaccine injury financial assistance programme to provide support for people who suffer serious side effects related to Covid-19 vaccines administered here.
In response to 14 MPs who raised questions on Singapore's vaccination strategy, Mr Gan and Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19, said that vaccination is not a silver bullet for tackling the pandemic.
For example, while the Government may consider relaxing some rules for those vaccinated - such as doing away with testing before events or changing quarantine rules for returning travellers - existing rules will still apply until more data is available, said Mr Wong.
"So until we understand the effects of the vaccine, I think we will not be able to make any changes to our measures, be it domestic or travel measures," he said.