S'pore authorities yet to decide if COVID-19 vaccinations would be mandatory – MOH official

Doctor in protective gloves & workwear filling injection syringe with COVID-19 vaccine.
(Getty Images file photo)

SINGAPORE — Authorities in Singapore have not made any decisions about whether COVID-19 vaccinations would be mandatory and may prioritise applying the vaccines to selected groups of people in the early stages of their availability, said a top health ministry official on Friday (21 August).

Ministry of Health (MOH) director of medical services Kenneth Mak, who was speaking at a virtual multi-ministry task force press conference, pointed out that the vaccines may not be made available in large quantities in their initial rollout.

One reason would be that several countries would be vying for access to them and companies will have to cater to as many as possible, said Prof Mak, who stressed that Singapore promotes and encourages greater global access to vaccines “rather than adopting a more protectionist approach”.

“It may well be that these vaccines are made available in limited quantities at the onset, and eventually over time more doses of these vaccines would be available, even in Singapore,” he added.

This mean that authorities here may have to prioritise the use of such vaccines for certain groups of people, such as vulnerable patients with “a higher risk of adverse outcomes, morbidity, and even mortality if they get infected with COVID-19” and those in the frontline looking after COVID-19 cases, explained Prof Mak.

“But we have not made any further decisions about whether to prioritise other groups of people, and we have not attained any decisions about mandatory vaccinations,” he stressed.

Health Minister and taskforce co-chair Gan Kim Yong said that it is too “premature” at this stage to discuss Singapore’s vaccine deployment strategy as there are many factors to be taken into consideration, including the type of vaccine made available here.

“We have to bear in mind that there may be different candidates of our vaccines that may become available and some of these vaccines may be suitable for certain groups of people (but) may be not suitable for other groups of people,” he explained.

Currently, Singapore is “actively pursuing” the purchase and procurement of COVID-19 vaccines with multiple suppliers and is “making progress”, Gan said.

Authorities will not be able to provide details of the negotiations as they entail confidential information, some of them commercial, he noted.

“But I assure you that we are actively pursuing this front and also planning our strategy going forward as and when these vaccines become available,” Gan stressed.

Local authorities have earlier assured that if and when an effective vaccine becomes available, every Singaporean who needs it can get it at an affordable price.

Earlier this month, a candidate vaccine jointly developed by Duke-NUS Medical School and United States pharmaceutical company Arcturus Therapeutic entered early-stage clinical trials. It is the first of its kind to be developed in Singapore.

The trial is being administered by the SingHealth Investigational Medicine Unit and is expected to last until October.

There are 30 vaccine candidates in clinical evaluation and 139 in preclinical evaluation as of Thursday, according to the World Health Organization.

Also in the race is Russia's much-touted potential COVID-19 vaccine, which will involve the testing of more than 40,000 people and will be overseen by a foreign research body when it starts next week.

“Sputnik V” has been hailed as safe and effective by Russian authorities and scientists following two months of small-scale human trials, the results of which have not been made public yet.

Experts have said that vaccines for the virus would take at least one year to 18 months to develop, but warned that they might not be able to completely protect people from the disease.

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