SINGAPORE - Singaporeans should get themselves vaccinated against Covid-19 even if the number of community cases are low, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said, as he stressed that the next outbreak is "just one infection away".
Doing so will provide better protection for the entire society, and allow Singapore to progressively restore community and economic activities to normalcy as quickly as possible, he added on Wednesday (Dec 30).
Vaccination will also prevent the healthcare system from getting overwhelmed, and can pave the way for Singapore to reopen its travel routes, he said, urging residents to take the vaccine when it becomes available to them.
"International travel has ground to a halt because of the border controls. With vaccination, it will allow many of these travel routes to be reconnected, and to allow Singapore to be reconnected to the rest of the world," noted Mr Gan, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19.
He was speaking to reporters at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), hours after Singapore's Covid-19 vaccination exercise kicked off with the first Pfizer-BioNTech jabs being administered to healthcare workers at the centre.
Asked about concerns over the vaccine, Mr Gan said it has met the requirements of the World Health Organisation, the Health Sciences Authority and other regulatory agencies.
He acknowledged that the long-term effects of the vaccine remain unknown, given that the vaccine has only been available for a few months.
"We are continuing to observe and continuing to monitor the data that is emerging...there are precautions that are put in place, and the vaccines have met all the safety and efficacy requirements for it to be deployed," he added.
Any potential risk of taking the vaccine also has to be weighed against the potential of a person getting Covid-19 and falling severely ill, he said, noting that an expert committee has recommended that all Singaporeans who are medically eligible should be vaccinated.
Mr Gan added that members of the Cabinet, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and himself, will also get vaccinated.
The schedules for that are currently being worked out, with priority going to healthcare workers, he said. "When my turn comes, I will similarly be among the first to step forward."
Singapore residents aged 70 and older will receive their jabs from February next year, followed by other Singaporeans and long-term residents who are medically eligible.
This is in line with recommendations by the expert committee looking at Singapore's Covid-19 vaccination strategy, that front-line and healthcare workers, as well as those most vulnerable to severe complications if they contract Covid-19, should be vaccinated first.
The expert committee also assessed that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is suitable for use in people aged 16 and older to guard against Covid-19, although taking the vaccine is still not recommended for pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals until more information is available.
The first shipment of the vaccine arrived in Singapore earlier this month (Dec 21) on a Singapore Airlines flight from Brussels.