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People waiting to get the Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine at iCare Medical and Wellness Clinic on June 18, 2021. — TODAY pic
People waiting to get the Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine at iCare Medical and Wellness Clinic on June 18, 2021. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, Aug 8 — Individuals who have taken alternative vaccines under the World Health Organization’s Emergency Use Listing will soon be considered fully vaccinated two weeks after they have received the full regimen, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Friday.

It added that from Aug 10, individuals who are fully vaccinated with vaccines such as Sinovac and Sinopharm from China will be eligible for the vaccination-differentiated Covid-19 rules for the purposes of activities such as dining at eateries.

Right now, only two messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccines used in Singapore’s national vaccination programme, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, are counted towards the national statistics and eligible for concessions on testing and infection control measures.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that this was because the efficacy of different vaccines varies.

“So at the initial stages… when most of our population are not vaccinated, it is important to get ourselves inoculated with the most effective vaccines,” he said at a press conference by the Government’s Covid-19 task force.

Singapore is now collectively more resilient and what is more important now is the difference between those who are vaccinated and not vaccinated — and less so between different vaccines, he added.

Giving an update on Singapore’s vaccination progress, MOH said that as of Thursday, 67 per cent of the population has completed their full vaccination regimen under the national vaccination programme, while 78 per cent have received at least one dose.

By National Day on Aug 9, the ministry expects around 70 per cent of the population to have completed two doses — slightly exceeding the target of two-thirds of the population set by the authorities for that date.

MOH said that with the higher vaccination coverage under Singapore’s national vaccination programme, the country can take a more inclusive approach in recognising Covid-19 vaccines under WHO’s listing.

The list comprises the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines that uses the new messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) technology, as well as viral vector vaccines such as Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, and inactivated vaccines Sinopharm and Sinovac.

Therefore, an individual will be considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks after they have received the full regimen of Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or any vaccines on WHO’s listing, MOH added.

Even so, Ong clarified that the vaccines other than Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna will not be part of the vaccine injury financial assistance programme.

This means that anyone vaccinated with those other vaccines who experiences serious side effects that are assessed to be related to an alternative Covid-19 vaccine will not be eligible for a one-off financial assistance payment that can range up to S$225,000.

Concerns over seniors

MOH also said that it remains concerned about seniors who are not vaccinated because they may suffer severe illness if infected.

For now, 76 per cent of those aged 70 and above have completed two doses and 82 per cent have received at least one dose.

However, there are still about 80,000 in this group that have yet to get their shots.

As this group is at higher risk of being infected and being seriously ill if infected, MOH said that it will continue with its efforts to help them get their vaccinations, such as through the deployment of mobile vaccination teams to locations where seniors live.

Other ways include roping in general practitioners and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners to persuade seniors to get vaccinated. Ong also made an appeal to ask private doctors and nurses to volunteer to give homebound seniors their vaccinations.

At the same time, the ministry is asking polyclinics and public hospitals to bring forward the appointments of seniors who are contraindicated (where treatment may not be advisable), so that they may receive earlier advice on whether they can receive their vaccinations.

Over the last 28 days, among the 80 local cases infected with Covid-19 who are seriously ill, 72 are not vaccinated or partially vaccinated, while only eight are fully vaccinated, MOH reported.

Healthcare protocol update

With evidence emerging that vaccinated individuals may recover within 10 days from the onset of illness, MOH said that it has moved to discharge fully vaccinated persons earlier on the 10th day of isolation if their Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction test is negative or shows very low viral loads.

Those who do not meet the criteria will continue to be discharged after 14 days of isolation without any further testing, with another seven days’ leave of absence, MOH said.

“This approach gives us assurance that cases will not pose transmission risks to their family and community upon discharge.”

Reopening with caution

With the higher level of vaccinations expected from Aug 9 onwards, MOH said that Singapore may start to re-open the economy and resume more activities with some confidence, though it stressed that care will be taken in doing so.

In particular, Singapore will adopt a vaccination-differentiated approach when adjusting infection and border controls.

This means that fully vaccinated individuals, who have good protection against the risk of infection or severe illnesses, will be able to engage in a wider range of activities.

Non-vaccinated individuals, on the other hand, will need to be under tighter safety measures to protect themselves and those around them.

However, non-vaccinated individuals with a valid negative pre-event test result, or recovered individuals, are regarded as being of lower risk. They may join groups of up to five in higher-risk mask-off activities such as dining in and personal care.

Even then, MOH warns that with high vaccination coverage, vaccine breakthroughs and large numbers of daily Covid-19 cases within the community may still happen.

In the meantime, it will be reviewing the medical management protocols for its Covid-19 patients.

When at least 80 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated, Singapore can take the next steps towards further opening up the economy, social activities, and travel, it added. — TODAY


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