COVID-19: Health ministry urges booster shots for elderly amid recent case surge

Expert committee highlights importance of bivalent vaccine boosters to reduce hospitalisations, severe disease risks

People wait at an observation area after their vaccination at a coronavirus disease vaccination centre in March, 2021
People wait at an observation area after their vaccination at a coronavirus disease vaccination centre in March, 2021. (Reuters file photo)

SINGAPORE — Amid a surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations in recent weeks, health officials are advising individuals aged 60 and above, as well as those who are medically vulnerable, to receive the updated bivalent vaccine booster approximately one year after their last booster dose.

They can begin receiving the booster as early as five months after their previous dose.

According to a media statement on Monday (22 May) by the Ministry of Health's (MOH) expert committee on COVID-19 vaccination, many hospitalised COVID-19 patients had not received the updated bivalent vaccine dose and were not up to date with their vaccinations, leaving them more vulnerable.

The committee emphasised that a significant number of these hospital admissions could have been prevented through vaccination, even for minimum protection.

"The minimum protection continues to be sustained against severe disease for more than one year after it is achieved," it said in its media statement.

Additionally, they highlighted that the bivalent vaccine boosters offer enhanced protection against the Omicron strains, which have been responsible for the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

For adults, minimum protection entails receiving one of the following:

  • Three doses of the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna), or the Novavax or Nuvaxovid vaccines;

  • Four doses of the Sinovac-CoronaVac vaccine.

Amplifying protection and reducing hospitalisation risks

According to data on the Ministry of Health website, there has been a notable increase in hospitalisations due to COVID-19 from 26 February to 13 May this year.

For example, between 7 and 13 May, an average of 336 people were hospitalised each day, with around 285 of them being aged 60 and older.

In contrast, during the period from 26 February to 4 March, there was an average of 44 daily hospitalisations, with 35 of them being individuals aged 60 and older.

The committee stressed that vaccination is essential to achieve a "good level of protection" against COVID-19 severe disease, particularly among those aged 60 and above.

While acknowledging that COVID-19 vaccines carry some risks, it said that the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks. They noted that the most common side effects are mild and resolve completely.

The committee stated, "The risk of serious side effects from vaccination is very low, approximately seven in 100,000 persons locally, and is even lower with the bivalent mRNA boosters.

"In contrast, the risks of severe illness from COVID-19, including breathing difficulties and even death, can be as high as around seven in 100 persons among unvaccinated seniors... Vaccination reduces the risk of severe illness by more than 80 percent."

More than 17 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered in Singapore, and more than 13 billion doses have been administered around the world, the committee added.

PM Lee tested positive for Covid-19, received recent booster in November

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday via a Facebook post that he has tested positive for COVID-19.

This is the first time he has contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic started. Despite the diagnosis, the 71-year-old Prime Minister mentioned that he is generally feeling alright.

He also mentioned that he received his most recent COVID-19 booster shot in November.

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