First Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine shots may be given in next 2 to 3 weeks: Singapore official

A nurse holds a phial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy's Hospital in London, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. U.K. health authorities rolled out the first doses of a widely tested and independently reviewed COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, starting a global immunization program that is expected to gain momentum as more serums win approval. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool)
A nurse holds a phial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in London on 8 December, 2020. (PHOTO: AP)

SINGAPORE — The first shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine may be administered in Singapore as early as within the next two to three weeks, provided it arrives as scheduled later this month, said a top health official on Monday (14 December).

“We think that if the vaccine arrives on a certain date before the end of the year, we might be ready to start delivering the vaccines and vaccinations within the next two to three weeks,” said the Ministry of Health (MOH) director of medical services Kenneth Mak during a virtual COVID-19 multi-ministry taskforce press conference.

Associate Professor Mak, who was responding to Yahoo News Singapore’s query on when the first vaccine shots would be given here, stressed the importance of making sure that they can be safely delivered and administered properly without any disruptions.

“We're not fussed about whether or not there's a period of time that passes between the vaccines arriving in Singapore and the first vaccinations starting, but we do want to make sure that we're able to do this safely to our at-risk populations in Singapore in a timely fashion,” he added.

Health Minister and taskforce co-chair Gan Kim Yong said more details will be shared with the members of the public closer to the date, so as to give them sufficient time to be prepared to go through the vaccination process.

Singapore will begin its voluntary vaccination starting with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has been approved by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) for usage here.

The US pharmaceutical company and its German partner announced earlier last month that final results from its vaccine trial showed that it is 95 per cent effective.

Other vaccines are expected to arrive in Singapore in the coming months, including Moderna and Sinovac, with whom local authorities have signed advanced purchase agreements.

The vaccination, which will occur in phases by end-2021, will be free for Singaporeans and long-term residents. While voluntary, authorities have strongly encouraged members of the public to get vaccinated.

Gan said that there is no specific target at the moment for the vaccine take-up rate here, but stressed it should be “as high as possible”.

When asked by a reporter, Prof Mak did not give a specific figure as to how many vaccines have been secured for Singapore, citing commercial sensitivities and confidentiality clauses in the purchase agreements. But he said the amount is “more than enough” for Singaporeans and long-term residents.

“The numbers may in fact change over time, simply because of the influence of manufacturing capacity and when these vaccines can be delivered into Singapore,” he added.

First to get vaccine shots

Authorities have repeatedly said that priority for the vaccination will be given to healthcare workers and front-line personnel, as well as the elderly and other vulnerable people, before the rest of the population.

On whether migrant workers would be considered part of the vulnerable population and prioritised for vaccination, Second Minister for Manpower Dr Tan See Leng said authorities will take a “calibrated approach”.

“By the time we have the three different types of vaccines coming in, I believe, a more robust schedule would be started, and we would roll out these vaccines to the migrant worker population who are currently non-immune, meaning that they are COVID naive (with no antibodies),” he added.

This will mean prioritising roughly one-third of a 300,000-strong migrant worker population in Singapore who are not immune to the virus as well as those who are coming back into Singapore as border restrictions further relax, said Dr Tan.

Gan said that migrant workers who are more involved in economic activities that will increase their exposure to potential infection may also be prioritised – after the primary risk-groups have been given the jabs.

“I think those will be in a second round. In the first round, the priorities are quite clear and we need to prioritise the first few rounds also partly because the supplies are likely to be limited... and (due to) the operational challenges of having to vaccinate a large number of population,” he added.

Not recommended for everyone

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, however, will not be given to pregnant women, immunocompromised patients, and those under the age of 16 until more data are available, said Prof Mak, who cited recommendations by Singapore's expert committee on COVID-19 vaccination.

He added that the committee has also recommended that the vaccine not be given to individuals who have a history of anaphylactic reactions.

His comments come after two health care workers showed anaphylactic reactions after receiving the vaccine on the first day it became available in the UK. This had led to Britain’s medicine regulator advising anyone with a history of anaphylaxis to a medicine or food not to take the shot.

Anaphylaxis is an overreaction of the body's immune system, which can be severe and sometimes life-threatening.

All individuals receiving a vaccine vaccination must be observed for a short period of time, said Prof Mak, to ensure they show no immediate signs to suggest an allergic reaction is occurring.

The vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech has two doses, with the second dose administered 21 days after the first.

“If an individual has some allergic reactions after that first dose of a vaccine being given, the recommendation is then not to complete and give that second dose,” Prof Mak added.

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