How Safe And Effective Is It?

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced yesterday (December 14) that Singapore will begin phase 3 of the reopening on December 28.

Despite the easing of restrictions in a controlled manner, Prime Minister Lee has warned that we should not let our guards down.

The pandemic is still raging and we may have to fight the battle against COVID-19 for “maybe a year or more”.

“A key factor is how quickly COVID-19 vaccines will be available to us,” he added.

According to Prime Minister Lee, the government has been working hard since the start of the pandemic to ensure access to vaccines.

To date, more than 200 vaccine candidates were in development, but not all of them would be successful.

“We have set aside over a billion Singaporean dollars. We have placed several bets, to sign advance purchase agreements and make advance payments for the most promising candidates, including Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Sinovac, ”Prime Minister Lee said.

“We have made deals with pharmaceutical companies to facilitate their clinical trials and drug development in Singapore and have attracted a few to establish vaccine manufacturing capabilities here.”

He added that local efforts to develop a vaccine can be seen as “insurance” in case the global supply chain is disrupted.

“In this way, we have built a diverse portfolio of options to ensure that Singapore is at the top of the vaccine queue, not last.”

Who can get vaccinated?

Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine
Image credit: Reuters

The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has officially approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for pandemic use.

The first shipment is expected to arrive by the end of the month, making Singapore one of the first countries in the world to procure the vaccine.

“We also expect more vaccines to arrive in Singapore in the coming months. If all goes according to plan, we will have enough vaccines for everyone in Singapore by the third quarter of 2021, ”Prime Minister Lee said.

He added that the vaccinations will be made free for all Singaporeans and long-term residents.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) set up a committee of doctors and experts to recommend a vaccination strategy, and they proposed that the entire adult population be vaccinated, but to make the vaccinations voluntary.

First priority will be given to those most at risk: healthcare workers and frontline staff, as well as the elderly and vulnerable.

The vaccines will then be gradually delivered to the rest of the population, and to cover all those who wish to be vaccinated by the end of next year.

Two doses should be given, 21 days apart, to persons 16 years of age and older, according to the vaccination regimen submitted by Pfizer-BioNTech.

How safe and effective is it?

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was developed by the American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its partner, the German company BioNTech, less than a year after the appearance of the coronavirus.

About 44,000 people took part in the clinical trials and preliminary results in November suggested the vaccine was over 90% effective – a very high number among vaccines.

Pfizer then published the final results of the trials on its website, showing that the vaccine had a 95% level of effectiveness in preventing Covid-19, 28 days after the first dose was given.

This means that a week after a person receives the second dose, if the person has not been infected with the coronavirus before, there is a 95% chance that the vaccine will work.

In addition, the HSA and the Covid-19 Vaccination Expert Committee concluded that the vaccine meets required standards of safety, efficacy and quality, and that its benefits outweigh any known risks.

In fact, PM Lee and his colleagues will undergo early vaccinations to prove the vaccines are safe, especially for the elderly.

However, the multi-ministerial COVID-19 task force said it is still learning more about the virus as well as the vaccine, such as the extent of its effectiveness and possible side effects.

minister of health gan kim yong singapore
Minister of Health Gan Kim Yong / Image credit: MCI

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said that since Singaporeans have a variety of different medical conditions, the task force may have to specifically match certain types of vaccines to different conditions to ensure safety.

For example, Brian issued an anaphylaxis warning on the Pfizer vaccine following allergic reactions.

Department of Health director of medical services Kenneth Mak said the task force shared the same concerns about allergic reactions. The most serious is anaphylaxis, which can lead to difficulty breathing.

Therefore, people with a history of severe allergic reactions or anaphylactic reactions are not recommended to be vaccinated.

In addition, all vaccinated people should be observed for a short time to make sure they do not show immediate signs of an allergic reaction.

If a person has an allergic reaction after that first dose has been given, the recommendation is not to give the second dose, Professor Mak said.

Going forward, the working group will continue to educate the public on the status of vaccines, their benefits, and possible experiences people may encounter to help them make an informed decision.

Currently, more data is needed to understand how the vaccine will affect pregnant women, those under the age of 16 and those with compromised immune systems.

Regardless, given that long-term data is still being collected, the working group believes it is prudent to make simple recommendations.

Therefore, vaccinations will be voluntary and people will not be forced to accept the vaccine, which is still new.

What other vaccines will be available?

PM Lee listed Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Sinovac among the “promising candidates”.

covid-19 vaccine table
Overview of COVID-19 vaccines / Image credit: Vulcan Post

Moderna announced today (December 15) that it has reached an agreement with the Ministry of Health to deliver its COVID-19 vaccine, called mRNA-1273, to Singapore.

The agreement “will support ongoing efforts to ensure access to a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine for Singaporeans,” the biotech company said.

The dose volume and financial details of the deal were not disclosed.

Data from a Phase 3 study involving 30,000 participants in the United States demonstrated 94.1% effectiveness against COVID-19 and a 100% success rate in preventing severe cases.

Moderna said there were no serious security issues with mRNA-1273.

However, the most common side effects were fatigue, redness and pain at the injection site, headache, and muscle aches, which increased after the second dose and were short-lived.

The company expects to be able to deliver between 500 million and 1 billion doses of vaccine per year from 2021.

Does being vaccinated mean you will be immune to COVID-19?

Mr Gan pointed out that although the vaccine protects the person who received it, there is still no clear evidence that it can protect against transmitting the virus to another person.

“So we cannot assume that once you are vaccinated you are not likely to pass the virus to another person and you can take your mask off and do whatever you want,” he added. .

Therefore, despite vaccination, all distancing and safety measures should continue to be observed. The working group will monitor developments in this area and adjust measures gradually over time.

“Please understand that a vaccine is not a ticket to the freedom to do whatever you want,” Education Minister Lawrence Wong sounded.

What other countries give vaccines?

UK vaccine covid-19 elderly
Image Credit: AP

The UK was the first to start vaccinating its citizens and has since offered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to frontline health workers and the elderly.

It prioritizes everyone over 50 as well as young adults with underlying health conditions, before the rest of the population takes the hit.

In the United States, the first shipments of Pfizer-BioNTech began to be deployed on December 13. Healthcare workers and older residents of long-term care homes will be the first in line.

According to U.S. officials, more than 100 million people, or about 30 percent of the U.S. population, could be vaccinated by the end of March.

Meanwhile, a vaccine developed by Chinese SinoPharm has an 86% effectiveness rate based on the results of the trials.

In November, it was reported that nearly a million people in China had taken the vaccine in its testing phase.

Indonesia, which faces rising death toll from Covid-19, has received 1.3 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine made by Chinese Sinovac, with 1.8 million more expected to arrive this month next.

However, Sinovac said it was not yet able to determine the effectiveness of the vaccine, which contradicted a statement by its Indonesian partner Bio Farma that provisional data showed 97% effectiveness.

The vaccine is like a “light at the end of the tunnel”

Vaccines will no doubt support our recovery in several ways.

While vaccine logistics can be quite complicated, PM Lee is confident that Singapore has a strong ecosystem for handling cargo.

The world’s leading logistics companies such as DHL, UPS and FedEx are based here; and Singapore International Airlines and Changi Airport groundhandling partners are all certified to handle and transport pharmaceutical supplies.

“We are now preparing to handle large volumes of vaccine shipments to and through Singapore, to help win the global fight against COVID-19,” Prime Minister Lee said.

“We didn’t get here overnight. It took us years of investment and planning, creating a good business climate, and expanding our air routes around the world. These long-term investments are now paying dividends. “

He added that the COVID-19 situation in Singapore has now stabilized and with the availability of vaccines, “we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

“As vaccinations become widespread not only in Singapore, but also in our region and around the world, we can look forward to resuming more normal lives,” Prime Minister Lee said.

“Let us continue our efforts in this home stretch, to cross the finish line together and complete our mission to defeat COVID-19.”

Featured Image Credit: Dado Ruvic via Reuters

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Jothi Venkat

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