From healthcare staff to airline crew: The people vaccinating Singapore against Covid-19

Ms Jenifer Mannong (right), Parkway Shenton's operations manager, at Taman Jurong vaccination centre, one of three centres which she helped set up. ST PHOTOS: TIMOTHY DAVID
The entrance of the Taman Jurong vaccination centre. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID
The vaccination booking area at Taman Jurong vaccination centre. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID
More than 549,000 people have received their first dose. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - When Parkway Shenton's operations manager, Ms Jenifer Mannong, was tasked with converting an abandoned school into the fully functional vaccination centre it is today, she knew she was in for a challenge.

The former Hong Kah Secondary School was empty as it was a decommissioned building with no electricity or water in the toilets.

Ms Mannong and her team opened the centre five days later on Jan 18, with barely a hiccup.

Singapore has been aggressively rolling out Covid-19 vaccinations nationwide, a massive undertaking involving thousands of people from various government agencies, private healthcare providers and volunteers.

The People's Association (PA) told The Sunday Times that as at March 1, around 1,800 PA staff and 14,000 volunteers have been involved in the vaccination programme.

There are currently 31 vaccination centres in operation, on top of 20 polyclinics and 22 public health preparedness clinics, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) last Wednesday. Each centre has the capacity to vaccinate about 2,000 people daily.

MOH said it is expecting a total of 40 vaccination centres by the middle of next month. This would enable around 80,000 people to be vaccinated each day.

As at last Monday, more than 792,000 doses of vaccines have been administered.

More than 549,000 people have received their first dose. About 243,000 have also received their second dose.

This means about 4 per cent of the population have completed their vaccination regimen.

Parkway Shenton runs three vaccination centres: Taman Jurong and Bukit Timah community clubs (CCs) and the former Hong Kah Secondary School campus.

Jenifer Mannong has been volunteering in Covid-19 efforts since the beginning of the pandemic. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Ms Mannong highlighted the importance of ensuring the centres are elder-friendly, and said they have enough chairs at waiting areas so the elderly would not have to stand while waiting in line.

She had overseen the setting up and operations of all three centres, starting with the centre at the former school, and ensures all scheduled vaccination appointment schedules run smoothly.

Ms Mannong, who had been volunteering in Covid-19 efforts such as temperature screening at Singapore's sea checkpoints and swabbing at foreign worker dormitories since the beginning of the pandemic, is determined to make the vaccination exercise a success.

She said: "The vaccinations are the tail-end of this war, and I want to be there to see it through."

The team at Raffles Medical Group faced its own set of challenges when it had to set up Singapore's first vaccination centre in five days at Changi Airport Terminal 4, recalled the group's lead physician, Dr Tan Joo Peng.

The centre began full-scale vaccinations of air crew and front-line workers on Jan 18.

Raffles Medical Group Vaccine Centres Physician Lead Dr Tan Joo Peng vaccinates Osman bin Haron. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

By working with the hospital's accident and emergency department, Dr Tan ensured the vaccination centre was equipped with resuscitation equipment such as EpiPens and glucose drips in case anyone had adverse reactions to the vaccine.

At T4, a team of doctors, nurses and healthcare attendants are present to screen patients, administer vaccinations, render treatment for side effects, and attend to emergencies.

Dr Tan said staff nurses are usually the ones administering the jab, though paramedics and enrolled nurses can be trained to become vaccinators as well.

He added that operating managers are also deployed to ensure the smooth flow of people at the centre to ensure there are no bottlenecks.

To meet manpower requirements for the centres, the group pools its resources together so that it can mobilise staff from both its hospital and general practitioner clinics, in addition to hiring new staff.

The group has more than 100 family physicians in its network, and they are deployed to all its centres on a rostered basis.

Jolene Koh (left) and Dr Tan Joo Peng oversee all of Raffles Medical Group's vaccination centres. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Dr Tan, who spoke to The Sunday Times at the Nee Soon East Community Club, said: "We take a 'seeding and planting' approach, whereby we train the initial batch of people who were involved in the T4 vaccination operations and 'plant' them at our new sites where they can then train the next batch of staff there."

He said around 40 to 50 people are required to operate a vaccination centre. The T4 centre requires around 70 people as it was planned to vaccinate around 4,000 people daily.

He and Ms Jolene Koh, the group's deputy director of operations, oversee all its vaccination centres.

Each centre has four sections: registration counters, at least 10 to 12 vaccination booths, an observation area, and discharge counters.

She said: "One of the biggest bottlenecks at the vaccination centres is at the observation area, as each person has to wait out 30 minutes before they are allowed to leave.

"This means we have to strategise our operations in such a way that we have sufficient seats to accommodate the number of people in the observation area."

Thomson Medical manages the vaccination centres at Bishan CC and Senja-Cashew CC.

Chan Wei Ling visits the vaccine centres at Bishan CC and Senja-Cashew CC at least two to three times a week. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Ms Chan Wei Ling, chief executive of Thomson Medical's specialist centres, visits the two centres at least two to three times a week to encourage the team and to understand on-the-ground sentiments.

Ms Chan said: "Having to handle the vaccination centres on top of other operations has been very intense but it's very rewarding. Even though we are in the private sector, we can also provide support for national healthcare efforts. I think it's very, very meaningful."

He arranged for shuttle buses for senior residents

Mr Chua Kian Meng (second from right) helps the elderly who are getting vaccinated on March 19, 2021. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Since Feb 28, elderly residents in Potong Pasir have been taking shuttle buses from Potong Pasir Community Club (CC) to the vaccination centre at Jalan Besar CC.

The shuttle bus service was an initiative headed by the chairman of the Potong Pasir Citizens' Consultative Committee, Mr Chua Kian Meng, 64.

He helped to make arrangements with several bus companies to ferry the seniors to Jalan Besar CC and back to Potong Pasir CC after their shots.


Centre supervisor had no prior industry experience

Mr Timothy Yeo (standing) was hired as the supervisor of the vaccination centre at Senja-Cashew CC last month. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

A year ago, Mr Timothy Yeo, 41, was working as a private-hire driver. But when Covid-19 struck, he often found himself having almost no passengers to pick up.

He is married with two daughters, aged one and five. The younger girl was born during the circuit breaker period last April.

Mr Yeo said: "My income dropped by 90 per cent. I felt stressed as I needed to put three meals on the table and also had another mouth to feed."


Weekends burned to train nurses on vaccine

Dr Shefaly Shorey has trained more than 80 nurses. PHOTO: NUS ALICE LEE CENTRE FOR NURSING STUDIES

Dr Shefaly Shorey remembers when her husband, a Singapore Armed Forces officer, would grumble about how much she was working.

But ever since she started training nurses who oversee the administration of the Covid-19 vaccine, he has nothing but praises for her.

Dr Shorey, 42, an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore Alice Lee Centre for Nursing Studies, said: "He told me, 'Actually I envy your work. I see how happy you are, making a difference in people's lives.'"


From budget airline staff to healthcare assistants

Mr Damien Teo (extreme right in the group photo), has been helping at the vaccination centre at T4. PHOTO: JETSTAR ASIA

Crew members from Jetstar Asia have been working part time at the vaccination centre at Changi Airport Terminal 4, as they battle the Covid-19 virus that has decimated their industry.

Since they have been furloughed due to the pandemic, the budget airline's staff have been working as healthcare assistants there.

The centre was opened on Jan 18 to inoculate those in the aviation sector such as air crew and front-line workers.


• Additional reporting by Jeanne Wang, Charlotte Chong and Natalie Tan

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