SINGAPORE - Young people aged 12 to 17 will have to take a Covid-19 booster shot to keep their fully vaccinated status with effect from March 14, said the Ministry of Health on Friday (Jan 21).
This comes as the Booster Vaccination Programme, previously recommended only for those aged 18 years and above, was extended to people in the younger age group.
The ministry said it will progressively invite those in this group to receive the booster dose from early February, starting with those aged 16 to 17 before moving on to those aged 12 to 15.
"If you are in this age group and you have received an SMS invitation to receive your booster shot, go and get your jab promptly," urged Health Minister Ong Ye Kung at a press conference held on Friday by the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19, which he co-chairs with Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong.
Mr Ong said that countries such as the United States, Chile, Qatar and Israel have already started giving booster shots to those aged 12 to 17.
"The Expert Committee on Covid-19 Vaccination (EC19V) has reviewed this data and is satisfied that the boosters are safe and effective for this age group," he added.
Now that those aged 12 to 17 are eligible for the booster programme, they will be subject to the same requirements as those who are 18 and older.
This means they are considered fully vaccinated for only 270 days after completing the primary vaccination series consisting of two shots of mRNA or three shots of the Sinovac/Sinopharm vaccine, and will have to take a booster shot to remain fully vaccinated, he said.
This takes effect from March 14, giving those aged 12 to 17 more time to receive their boosters, said Mr Ong.
Singapore's director of medical services, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, who was also at the press conference, said vaccine protection in adolescents aged 12 to 17 wanes over time, even if protection against severe infections "remains robust".
This reduction in vaccine effectiveness has been observed to happen in young people from about six months following their last vaccine dose, though at a more "gradual rate" compared with adults, he added.
"Experience in Israel, the US and the UK has shown that adolescents are as vulnerable to breakthrough infections following vaccination in adults, but the booster doses have been shown to increase protection against the Omicron variant," said Prof Mak.
The EC19V noted that booster vaccinations may also confer more robust protection against future variants of concerns that may emerge from time to time.
Prof Mak noted that local and international data has shown that the safety profile and side effects of the booster dose are compatible with those of the first two doses, and there is a significantly lower risk of myocarditis, or heart inflammation.
MOH said people who have recovered from Covid-19 and have completed their primary vaccination series do not require a booster at this point in time, and they will continue to be considered as fully vaccinated.
It added, however, that it is safe for such people to receive a booster dose from five months after their last dose, and they will not be turned away if they want to take the jab.
Those aged 12 to 17 will require the consent of their parent or guardian to book an appointment, said MOH.
The ministry will send an SMS with a personalised booking link to the mobile number of parents and guardians who had registered their numbers for the primary vaccination series.
The jab can be taken at any vaccination centre offering the PfizerBioNTech/Comirnaty vaccine, and those taking the jab will need to bring along their student identification, or if not available, other forms of identification, such as birth certificate, passport or SingPass, for verification purposes.
Parents and guardians of those aged 13 and above need not accompany their children on the day of their vaccination.
However, those aged 12 and students in special education (Sped) schools will need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian for their vaccination, similar to arrangements for the primary vaccination series.
MOH and the Health Promotion Board will work with Sped schools, which will give parents and guardians more details at a later date, said MOH.
Meanwhile, those aged 12 to 17 who are medically ineligible for the Pfizer vaccine will be offered a Sinovac dose under a dedicated public health programme.
This programme will also be extended to children aged five to 11 years who are medically ineligible for the Pfizer vaccine for their primary vaccination series.
Participants in the public health programme will be closely monitored by trained medical personnel. MOH will contact eligible people with detailed instructions.