Covid-19 vaccine and you: What to expect

SINGAPORE – Covid-19 vaccinations have started in Singapore for healthcare front-liners and will be rolled out to the elderly and the rest of the population progressively. From safety to efficacy and the nation’s vaccination strategy, Insight answers all the key questions.

Q: Is it free?

A: Covid-19 vaccines will be free for all Singaporeans and long-term residents who are currently here.

This includes those here on an employment or S-pass, as well as work permit holders, foreign domestic workers, and dependant’s pass, long-term visit pass and student pass holders.

Q: What if I refuse to take the vaccine? Will I lose my job, especially if I am a healthcare worker?

A: Although vaccinations are not compulsory for healthcare workers, all local residents, including healthcare workers, are urged to go for the jabs.

There is no plan to alter the duties of healthcare workers who do not get vaccinated, said National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) executive director Leo Yee Sin. Hospitals will also continue to enact preventive measures.

Q: What vaccines are currently available?

A: Singapore has to date approved only one Covid-19 vaccine for use here, by American pharmaceutical company Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.

However, the country has also signed purchase agreements with American biotechnology firm Moderna, as well as China’s Sinovac.

The Singapore authorities have said that if all goes according to schedule, Singapore will have enough doses for its people by the third quarter of the year.

Q: How many vaccine doses do we have? When did the vaccines arrive?

A: The number of vaccines Singapore has is a sensitive number and cannot be disclosed.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said Singapore is working on securing a portfolio of Covid-19 vaccines to cater to different segments of the population. Diversifying the portfolio will improve its chances of securing a suitable vaccine for everyone.

The first batch of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine landed on Dec 21.

Q: Can I get the Covid-19 vaccine without an appointment? What if I forget to take the second dose?

A: Prior bookings will be necessary, given the cold-chain requirements at the vaccination sites and multi-dose vials of the vaccines. It will also ensure operational efficiency and minimise individual wait times.

More information on how to make a booking will be provided later.

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Q: After I am vaccinated, does it mean I do not need to wear masks? Can safe distancing measures be relaxed?

A: Associate Professor Lim Poh Lian, a member of the expert committee on Covid-19 vaccination, cautioned that a vaccine is not 100 per cent effective. This would mean that there could still be a few people getting Covid-19 infection even after getting vaccinated.

Vaccinations will also take time to roll out and some people, such as those who are immunocompromised, will be unable to receive the vaccine. Others may refuse to get vaccinated.

Singapore is also still seeing imported cases, and not everyone in the world will have the opportunity to get vaccinated, Prof Lim added.

Because of all this, mask wearing and safe distancing measures will remain paramount.

Q: Can I choose which Covid-19 vaccine to take?

A: No. The Health Sciences Authority has to date approved only one vaccine by Pfizer-BioNTech. Those who opt to receive the vaccine will receive a physical vaccination card and will be able to check their vaccination records online.

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Q: When will it be my turn to get vaccinated? What are some of the considerations?

A: Forty healthcare workers at the NCID were the first batch to be vaccinated on Dec 30 last year and vaccinations in hospitals started yesterday.

The priority groups for vaccination are based on a risk assessment. Healthcare, front-line and other essential personnel are vaccinated first, to preserve healthcare and other essential systems.

Others at greater risk of severe disease will be vaccinated from next month.

This will begin with seniors aged 70 and above, as protecting the elderly, who are more likely to suffer severe illness, will help to take pressure off the healthcare system.

Those who are in jobs or work in settings where there is a risk of a super-spreading event, such as those in the construction and marine sectors and migrant workers, are also a priority. Protecting these high-risk individuals will reduce the likelihood of virus spread into the community. Thereafter, Singapore will progressively broaden vaccinations to other Singaporeans and long-term residents who are medically eligible.

As more vaccines are approved for use, the nation will adjust its vaccination programme according to the supply of doses, as well as disease patterns at that point in time.

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Q: Will the vaccination leave a keloid scar like the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine?

A: It is unlikely as this is an intra-muscular injection (like the influenza vaccine). There have been no reports of scarring.

Unlike the BCG, where the injection site is just beneath the surface of the skin, most intramuscular injections will not leave a scar because the inflammation occurs in the muscle.

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