How Singapore Can Benefit From A Slower COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine is one of the main topics in early 2021, with a few countries – Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the United Kingdom (United Kingdom) in particular – surpassing all others in terms of vaccination rates.

doses of covid-19 vaccination worldwide
Image Credit: Our World in Data

But the real winners aren’t those who run forward to vaccinate as many of their citizens as possible, but those who don’t have to. Singapore is one of them.

Singapore succeeded not only in reducing community transmissions to near zero, but also in containing a major epidemic among its migrant worker population last year.

They have prevented the virus from spreading outside the tight dormitories in which immigrants live, despite being one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

Border closures, lockdowns, social distancing, mask warrant and meticulous contact tracing – including the adoption of TraceTogether by more than 70 percent of the population – have produced invaluable benefits in 2021. This enables the country to conduct its vaccination campaign in an organized manner. , in a careful manner.

While Israel, UK and UAE are praised for their rapid rollout of vaccination, they had no other choice as they have battled major epidemics in the past two months, which have claimed lives to thousands of people.

covid vaccine deaths 19
Image Credit: Vulcan Post

By mid-January, the UK was registering 60,000 new cases per day. During that time, it was around 8,000 in Israel, while the UAE recently hit its peak with almost 4,000.

Since the start of the pandemic, more than 112,000 people have died in Britain, more than 5,000 in Israel and nearly 1,000 in the UAE. However, in Singapore, the death toll stopped at just 29.

For an epidemic to be of comparable severity – as a proportion of the population – Singapore would have to register between 2,000 (against the United Arab Emirates) and 5,000 (against the United Kingdom and Israel) cases each day – and up to 10,000 deaths in total.

Instead, it is not recording more than 20 to 30 cases per day not only in January, but for almost six months now since September 2020 (with most of them imported by returning residents).

In other words, the situation in the city-state is 100 to 200 times less severe than in countries with the highest vaccination rates.

This shows that they are not the success stories they claim to be, but rather examples of desperation in the face of a national health care crisis.

However, concerns about public health were not their only motivation.

The governments of Israel and the UK have also had political reasons to step up vaccination efforts: the upcoming Knesset elections (fourth in two years) and Brexit, respectively.

All votes count

Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel
Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel / Image credit: Pool photo via AP

For Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, vaccines are an excellent weapon not only against COVID-19, but also against political opponents, as they could help him break the deadlock that has crippled the country for two years.

A world-leading immunization program could give the Likud political party enough chance in the polls to provide a few more seats, which it has not been able to create a stable government without.

Boris Johnson, meanwhile, is using the vaccination schedule to show society that Brexit made sense, as the rest of Europe is – at least on the surface – lagging behind the UK.

It’s a success Downing Street must distract public opinion from the pains of the divorce with the EU, which has left empty shelves in many supermarkets and created long delays at borders, hurting businesses that have already struggled in due to the pandemic. .

Raising vaccination statistics supports Johnson’s rhetoric that Britain is better on its own, even though the huge costs of this campaign are hidden from public view.

Everything comes at a price

First, there is the cost of mass vaccination.

cost of covid-19 vaccine
Image Credit: BBC

The UK is paying more than it would as a member of the EU (even for the UK-made AstraZeneca vaccine, which is expected to cost around $ 3 per dose in Britain, compared to $ 2.15 in the UK. ‘EU).

Likewise, Israel only managed to get millions of doses so quickly by paying a much higher price for its Pfizer vaccine – around $ 23.50 per dose, compared to $ 19.50 in the US and $ 14.70. $ in the EU.

He also agreed to share medical data with the company, sparking a heated debate over privacy.

Meanwhile, the UK government is experimenting with mixing different vaccines and has decided to extend the time between two injections of Pfizer and Moderna mRNA variants – from the recommended three weeks to 12 weeks – attracting strong criticism from the medical community.

This decision allows the authorities to rapidly increase the number of vaccines, without having to wait as other countries are doing. Many choose to hold on to second doses for weeks on end, so that everyone who receives the first vaccine has a guaranteed follow-up dose, in case of late shipments.

While the Johnson administration defends its choices, saying it just wants to provide at least some degree of protection to as many people as possible as quickly as possible, extending the time between doses from three weeks to three months (for scientific reasons uncertain and against the recommendations of manufacturers and many doctors) shows how the government is prepared to play with people’s lives.

AstraZeneca Covid-19 Vaccine
Covid-19 vaccine by AstraZeneca / Image credit: AFP via Getty Images

As if that weren’t enough, it has now been revealed that AstraZeneca’s viral vector vaccine – which the UK government is using alongside alternatives to mRNA – offers less protection in the elderly and fails against the southern variant. African virus.

With the company currently delivering around one to two million doses to the UK every week, the government’s rush could leave several million people without proper immunity and cause a resurgence of the virus later in the year.

It turns out, then, that the world’s major immunization programs are more of a desperate gamble on the part of politicians seeking both to control the massive outbreaks of the virus they had failed to suppress in previous months and to gain popularity with the public at a politically crucial time for them.

It is only in this context that one can truly appreciate the situation Singapore finds itself in (among very few other countries).

Although he has obtained more than enough doses for his entire population, he can now patiently wait for their delivery, then vaccinate each of the scheduled groups without haste, minimizing risks and refraining from dangerous experiments.

He also has the comfort of observing and learning from the experiences of other countries and the results delivered by different vaccines, fine-tuning his own vaccination campaign in the process to achieve the best results with the least compromise.

Since the local economy is not stuck, with only minor restrictions placed on certain industries, the next major step for Singapore would be to reopen its borders. This development depends not only on the local situation, but also worldwide.

Even with a fully vaccinated population, major risks remain. No vaccine guarantees complete immunity and 95% effectiveness, which means that nearly 300,000 people in the country could still be at risk of developing infection if exposed to the virus.

This is why Singapore cannot simply reopen its borders to millions of people, even if all residents take their hits.

It must do so gradually, with countries controlling their own outbreaks. Unfortunately, at the current rate, the achievement of collective immunity will take over the most developed countries until the end of 2021, possibly early 2022.

Discovery The missing piece

There’s still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19 vaccines, mainly: how long does protection last?

We know that post-infection immunity should last around eight months or more, but it also differs from person to person because there have been cases of re-infections.

We also know that a single dose of mRNA vaccines provides partial protection for up to two to three months, but we have yet to find out what happens after receiving the second recommended booster dose.

Evidence suggests we could expect at least a year of immunity – maybe more. But the virus continues to mutate, and we don’t yet know how well we can be protected against its newer variants.

As I mentioned above, AstraZeneca’s viral vector vaccine – which is most likely to be the dominant vaccine in the world due to its much lower price than mRNA competitors – turns out to be already underperforming compared to the South African variant.

As a result, it is highly likely that we will need more booster shots (or new vaccines) in the years to come before the virus is defeated.

More importantly, it may mean that countries now rushing to immunize their populations early and in large numbers will face an equally dire need in a year or two, when the immunity of those millions of vaccinated people could begin. to drop at the same time. time.

Slower and gradual deployment initially delays the achievement of collective immunity, but offers prolonged protection later, as smaller parts of society must be vaccinated month after month in subsequent years.

This puts less strain on the healthcare system and presents a lower risk of a new epidemic. This is why it is important for Singapore to maximize its vaccinations as they arrive regularly, instead of waiting.

Singapore may have bought some time, but now it’s up to residents to get the most out of the vaccines arriving in the country.

They can’t sit in warehouses for months, so when it’s up to you to take the picture, do it. You are going to get it at the best time for yourself and for the country.

Featured Image Credit: Reuters

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Jothi Venkat

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