Parliament: Migrant workers in Singapore will get COVID-19 vaccination by year-end

Medical workers prepare to perform a nose swab on a migrant worker at a dormitory, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Singapore May 15, 2020.  REUTERS/Edgar Su
Medical workers prepare to perform a nose swab on a migrant worker at a dormitory amid the coronavirus disease outbreak in Singapore on 15 May, 2020. (Reuters file photo)

SINGAPORE — All migrant workers in Singapore will be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of this year, along with Singaporeans and long-term pass holders living here, said Second Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng in Parliament on Monday (1 February).

Dr Tan, who is also Second Minister for Trade and Industry, was responding to a parliamentary question filed by Workers’ Party Aljunied MP Leon Perera on the timeline of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout for migrant workers as well as measures to be taken to educate them about the vaccination.

“We will prioritise the migrant workers and it would be within the timeline as mentioned by the SMS (Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary). However, the prioritisation will also depend on the risk stratification of the dormitories, and obviously those at higher risk, we will vaccinate them first,” he said.

Earlier in the same session, Dr Janil, who is from the ministries of Communications and Information, and Health, stressed that while the Singapore government has the capacity and capability to vaccinate the entire population by the third quarter, it aims to complete the roll-out sometime between then and the end of the year given “some uncertainty in terms of take-up rate”.

“Ultimately, the outcome will be determined by a combination of our supply, as well as the willingness and the engagement of Singaporeans and longtime residents to go forward, to have the vaccination,” Dr Janil had said.

As of Sunday, over 155,000 people in Singapore have received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the only one of its kind thus far to be approved by authorities for pandemic use here. The government has signed advanced purchase agreements with Moderna and Sinovac.

While Dr Tan did not provide specific details on the vaccination exercise for migrant workers, such as the timeline and the vaccine to be administered, he stressed that authorities will make an announcement when they are ready.

Currently, the Ministry of Manpower is working out the schedule and details with the Ministry of Health, which will depend on the delivery schedule for vaccines, he said.

A “comprehensive communication campaign” to inform migrant workers of the safety and benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine will be in place as part of the vaccination effort for the migrant workers, added Dr Tan.

“The common side effects and risks of allergic reactions will also be explained. Communication with the migrant workers will be done through videos, pamphlets, and booklets in their native languages,” he said.

He also noted that authorities will be working with some of the larger non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which have greater outreach in terms of reaching out to the migrant workers, and will try their best “as far as possible” to involve all NGOs in their educational efforts.

“The communal living and working conditions of migrant workers in dorms put them at higher risk of infection and the formation of large clusters,” said Dr Tan.

“Vaccination of the migrant workers helps to reduce the viral load, which in turn lowers the overall risk and helps protect our wider community from an outbreak. This will also reduce the potential load on our healthcare workers and facilities.”

In December last year, the MOH and MOM said that 152,794 such workers have been infected with the virus, or 47 per cent of 323,000 dorm dwellers here, including the over 98,000 who only tested positive on their serology tests.

Only those who test positive on the polymerase chain reaction test are included in Singapore’s case count as per the World Health Organization’s criteria. As of Monday, these migrant workers make up some 91.6 per cent of Singapore’s 59,536 COVID-19 cases.

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