From next month, adult Singaporeans can use their Medisave to pay for vaccinations which the Ministry of Health is recommending depending on their age and health.
The new National Adult Immunisation Schedule (NAIS), which lists who should be vaccinated and when, includes immunisation for diseases such as the flu and hepatitis B. It is the latest step in the country's push to encourage preventive care, and mirrors a similar schedule for children.
The National Childhood Immunisation Programme dates back more than a century.
Senior Minister of State for Health and Transport Lam Pin Min said yesterday that while the scheme has been effective for children, there is low awareness of the benefits of adult vaccination.
He highlighted how out of every 100,000 hospital cases of those aged 65 and above, 56 involve pneumococcal disease, which can cause pneumonia. This risk can be reduced by vaccination, which costs between $70 and $170, said Dr Lam at the Singapore Prevention and Cardiac Rehabilitation Symposium yesterday.
The adult schedule was formed based on recommendations by the Expert Committee on Immunisation, which comprises officials from MOH, government agencies, and doctors.
It lists seven vaccines that protect against 11 diseases, including human papillomavirus (HPV), which can lead to cervical cancer, tetanus, diphtheria (a contagious disease that causes inflammation of the mucous membranes), whooping cough, measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella, more commonly known as chickenpox.
Those 65 years old and above, for example, are encouraged to be vaccinated against influenza.
Singaporeans can use up to $400 of their Medisave account under the Medisave400 scheme for the vaccinations.
Medisave400 allows people to use up to $400 per Medisave account a year for selected outpatient medical services, including health screenings.
Dr Lam said he hopes this would encourage the take-up of important vaccinations.
But he noted that initiatives such as the new immunisation schedule are beneficial if only they are adopted widely and appropriately.
"This is where, as healthcare professionals, you can make a big difference in your patients' lives," he told the symposium.
Experts interviewed said that allowing people to use their Medisave accounts would make vaccinations more affordable.
Associate Professor Hsu Li Yang of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore said vaccines remain one of the most cost-effective ways of preventing infectious diseases. "If a sufficiently large proportion of the population is vaccinated, there is a corresponding herd immunity that results in some protection for the rest that are not," he said.
Dr Chia Shi-Lu, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said: "Whether or not someone needs these vaccinations, such decisions should be made in consultation with their doctors."
•Additional reporting by Linette Lai