COVID-19: Unlikely everyone in Singapore can be vaccinated, says Gan Kim Yong

SINGAPORE — Even when a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, it is unlikely that the entire population of Singapore can be vaccinated against the coronavirus, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said on Tuesday evening (10 November).

Addressing reporters at a virtual briefing by the multi-ministry taskforce (MTF) on COVID-19, Gan said, “And I should remind us that even with the availability of vaccine, we probably will not be able to vaccinate, or do not intend to vaccinate, our entire population, depending on the nature of the vaccine. And even if we were to vaccinate the entire population, it will take time to do so.”

Gan, who co-chairs the MTF, noted that there are “multiple factors” to be considered in the administration of a vaccine. For example, there is no sufficient data so far as to the sustainability of the immunity that any vaccine may confer. There are also safety issues at stake for different segments of the population – some may only be suitable for children, while others may be unsuitable for elders, who have multiple morbidities.

The 61-year-old said this was why MOH has set up an Expert Committee on COVID-19 Vaccination, comprising experts in infectious diseases, immunology, and other relevant fields. The Committee will advise on the suitability, safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and recommend the vaccination approach for the different segments of the population.

The Minister was responding to a question on the Economic Development Board (EDB) committing US$45 million (S$60 million) to fund the manufacture of the ARCT-021 vaccine candidate, and up to an additional US$175 million (S$235 million) to buy the vaccine. The vaccine is being co-developed by US pharmaceutical company Arcturus Therapeutics and Duke-NUS Medical School, and is expected to be ready and supplied to Singapore in the first quarter of next year.

Asked for specifics of the deal, Gan said that “commercial confidentiality” prevented him from providing details, as some of the contracts are still being negotiated.

MOH director of medical services Kenneth Mak said the authorities would adopt a “more holistic strategy” for vaccination. “It's very likely that we will develop a portfolio of different vaccines that may therefore be relevant and appropriate for different segments of the population.”

Prof Mak said Singapore is focused on several vaccine candidates that are currently undergoing phase 3 studies and in discussions with pharmaceutical companies for access to these candidates.

Media reports on the interim favourable results from the vaccine co-developed by Pfizer has led to “cautious optimism” that the leading candidates may pass phase 3 studies, and then become available for for clinical use, he added.

Urging caution as more data on vaccine candidates is needed, Prof Mak said, “For example, do vaccines require one single dose, or they require more than one dose? Will the vaccines provide a long lasting response, or will they have a more short acting response such that there may be a requirement for repeated vaccinations later downstream?”

The Republic has signed up to the COVAX Facility, a global initiative of governments and manufacturers focused on ensuring that COVID-19 vaccines would reach those in greatest need, whoever they are and wherever they live.

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