Not possible to vaccinate everyone: Singapore Health Minister

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong with syringes pointed at him. Photo: Coconuts
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong with syringes pointed at him. Photo: Coconuts

Even when a COVID-19 vaccine is available, Singapore has no intention to make it available to everyone. 

Distributing the vaccine to all residents when it becomes available would not only be time-consuming, but first expert assessment of its effectiveness and safety must be conducted, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said last night.

“Even with the availability of the vaccine, we probably would not be able to vaccinate, do not intend to vaccinate the entire population depending on the nature of the vaccine,” he said. “Even if were to vaccinate the entire population, it would take time to do so.”

In the meantime, it’s important for people to continue social distancing and taking other precautions, he added.

Gan’s comments came in response to questions about the Singapore Economic Development Board’s funding of close to S$300 million for development and future acquisition of a COVID-19 vaccine known as ARCT-021 by U.S. pharmaceutical company Arcturus Therapeutics. It is being developed with Duke-NUS Medical School and is expected to be ready in the first quarter.

Global markets were buoyed yesterday on upbeat news that a Pfizer vaccine candidate was found to be effective in more than 90% of clinical trials.

Health ministry experts will conduct a “comprehensive analysis” to determine the vaccine’s effectiveness and ensure it is safe to use for different segments of the population. Gan said priority access would be given to frontline healthcare workers and then to those most vulnerable, such as seniors. 

Gan stressed that there is limited information about the vaccine under development, which needs to be further analyzed to understand how long it may be effective.

“[W]e will still need to establish that fact to allow us to have confidence that they are going to provide us lasting immunity otherwise we would have to revaccinate the entire population or continue with safe distancing measures,” he said.

Last month, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said Singapore wouldn’t relax pandemic measures further in “Phase 3” until a vaccine was available. Education Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday that there was still no fixed date for that to occur, despite news that the Singapore-backed vaccine could be coming in Q1.

“[I]f all the stars are aligned, we might be able to enter Phase 3 before the end of the year. There’s still some time before the end of the year,” Wong said. 

Singapore has been supporting COVAX, an international effort to make an approved vaccine for the virus widely and openly available throughout the world. 

Since October Singapore has been recording new daily cases in the single digits. As of yesterday, the official caseload stood at 58,073 infections and 28 deaths since January.

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