Mass flu vaccination drive planned for S'pore govt workers to ease strain on Covid-19 testing resources

The flu vaccinations aim to reduce the number of people subject to Covid-19 regulations as influenza and Covid-19 symptoms can be similar.
The flu vaccinations aim to reduce the number of people subject to Covid-19 regulations as influenza and Covid-19 symptoms can be similar.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A flu vaccination drive is being planned for 44 public agencies to ensure that as many employees as possible are protected ahead of the year-end flu season. 

Because influenza and Covid-19 symptoms can be similar, the flu vaccinations aim to reduce the number of people subject to Covid-19 regulations, including measures such as isolation and hospitalisation, the Public Service Division (PSD) told The Straits Times. 

The Government on July 28 called for a tender for the provision of the Northern Hemisphere Flu Vaccine 2020/2021 for the staff of all ministries, organs of state and statutory boards. This vaccine protects against the viral strains based on World Health Organisation recommendations.

So far, 44 agencies, with a staff strength of about 44,000, have indicated their interest. The actual number taking part in the programme is not yet certain. 

The expected take-up rate for the vaccine is between 5 per cent and 30 per cent - which is about 14,200 staff, say the tender documents.

The programme is tentatively scheduled to run from October this year to March next year, according to tender documents seen by ST.

PSD said that while the flu vaccination is voluntary, it encouraged all public officers to take it. “A high uptake of flu vaccination can help to reduce healthcare visits and hospital admission due to flu, and mitigate the widespread transmission and formation of flu clusters,” it said.

It is not clear yet if staff will have to pay for the flu jabs.

The vaccines will be administered at the chosen contractor’s locations or on-site at the various public agencies.

PSD said all staff were also encouraged to do so last year.

This is the first time the PSD has called for such a contract, to better facilitate the procurement process for the provision and administration of the flu vaccines.

Parkway Shenton medical director Edwin Chng said the move may help reduce the strain on the healthcare system. 

Parkway Shenton is involved in Covid-19 testing here. 

Dr Chng told ST: “Flu symptoms mimic those of Covid-19 and are not easily distinguishable. Hence, anyone with flu symptoms need to be screened for Covid-19 and isolated while awaiting swab results. 

“This puts a strain on our testing resources and healthcare facilities including clinics and hospitals. Flu vaccination helps to reduce such patients and allows preservation of resources to be focused on actual Covid-19 cases.”

He added that Singapore’s recent moves to open more borders may result in an increase in both flu and Covid-19 infections. 

“Now that we have achieved a reasonable rate of Covid-19 vaccination, it makes sense to also focus on flu vaccination next,” he said.

Last October, ST reported that demand for flu vaccines had spiked as doctors and infectious diseases experts encouraged people to get the flu vaccine so as to guard against a possible “twin-demic” of Covid-19 and flu during the year-end flu season.

Then, the number of flu cases was relatively low, with polyclinics seeing fewer than half the number of patients seeking treatment for acute respiratory infection (ARI) compared with the same period last year.

The daily average number of patients seeking treatment for ARI at polyclinics from Sept 27 to Oct 3 last year was 1,038, compared with 2,619 cases in the same period in 2019, according to the Ministry of Health. 

This was likely a result of mandatory mask wearing, safe distancing and better personal hygiene coupled with less travelling, doctors told ST then.

This year the numbers are up slightly, but still lower than pre-pandemic levels. 

From April 18 to Aug 14, the average daily number was 1,097, compared with 723 in the same period last year. In 2019, the number was 2,894.