SINGAPORE: Rely only on trusted sources for information about vaccines instead of believing misleading messages which are being circulated, said Associate Professor Benjamin Ong, chair of the Expert Committee on COVID-19 Vaccination, on Monday (Jan 11) after he received his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
“We’ve seen some of these circulating messages and a lot of it is based on misinformation and misunderstanding of how vaccines work … so I would advise people to just go to the trusted sources,” he said in response to a reporter’s question on anti-vaccine messages shared on WhatsApp and on social media.
Trusted sources would include the website of the Ministry of Health and information from the mainstream media, he added.
Assoc Prof Ong was speaking to the media along with Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, who is Singapore’s Chief Health Scientist, and is also on the COVID-19 vaccine committee.
Assoc Prof Ong had been vaccinated at about 2pm on Monday at National University Hospital, with Prof Tan going for his shot shortly after. Both waited for 30 minutes after that to be observed for potential side effects before fielding questions from reporters.
Prof Tan emphasised to reporters that approved vaccines have gone through rigorous scrutiny by regulators in Singapore and the rest of the world.
“I have been looking at vaccines from the early days since February and March, and tracking quite closely. And I feel very confident that the trials have been done very rigorously, the data has been scrutinised by regulatory agencies in Singapore and rest of the world,” he said.
TWO DOSES PLANNED
He confirmed that Singapore has no plans to “stretch” the doses of the vaccines, as the country has procured enough doses for its more than 5 million residents.
In other countries, there has been discussion of giving people “half doses”, which involves injecting one dose of the vaccine first and possibly forgoing the second dose in favour of inoculating more people.
Prof Tan stressed the importance of getting two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for full protection. Trials have shown that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is the only one approved and administered in Singapore currently, has an efficacy of about 95 per cent with two doses spaced three weeks apart.
“It’s very important for everyone to understand that full protection only takes place if you have two doses,” he said. ”There will be people who will get some mild side effects from the first injection – pain, a bit of swelling, maybe even a fever.
“I think we have to be prepared when we have our first shot that there may be some minor symptoms that may last a day or two, so that we don’t get put off from coming for our second shot.”
On how long the immunity from the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine would last, Prof Tan said that studies show protection lasts for three months, but that is because that is the extent of the period of observation.
“I expect that it will be longer than that. Some of the emerging research … suggests that immunity will last more than six months, eight months. So we think that it’s not going to be a very short-lived immunity.”
SIDE EFFECTS TO BE MONITORED
Explaining the vaccination process, Prof Tan said that it took about 40 to 50 minutes from registration to an injection of the thawed vaccine, to a half hour of observation.
“I think people should cater for one hour if you’re having a vaccine, because of the 30-minute observation period,” he said.
Following the shot, healthcare authorities will monitor the post effects and collect information from vaccinated people, doctors and vaccination centres, Prof Tan said.
“All this is collated centrally so that we can have a look at the side-effect profile that is emerging from our population,” he added.
Assoc Prof Ong also said that people who are getting a flu vaccine should wait “a couple of weeks” before going for the COVID-19 jab.
“We want the immune system to respond appropriately to each vaccine, so it’s wiser to have that time gap,” he said.
On reports of a more infectious variant of the virus circulating in the United Kingdom, Assoc Prof Ong said a recent small-scale study suggests that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are still effective against it, but “there is active work going right now” and more information is needed.
“You shouldn’t be sitting around and waiting. If there’s a lot of active infection going on more mutations will essentially occur. Apart from safe distancing measures … and other measures we’ve had, the only other recourse we have is vaccination,” he said.
As to whether he was satisfied with the vaccine uptake among frontline healthcare workers so far, he said: “I think it’s early days, so I’m hopeful that my colleagues will … proceed to get themselves vaccinated. I thought it was important that I came forward early to actually show that I have confidence in the evaluation process.
“There are many reasons why I think this would be beneficial: First, for my own peace of mind, for my family, my colleagues, and also to contribute as part of the country, to try to make Singapore safe.”
Close to 120 healthcare workers across the National University Health System received their vaccination on Monday, which was the official launch of the COVID-19 immunisation exercise for the healthcare group.
Healthcare institutions have progressively begun inoculating their workers since Dec 30, when 40 nurses and doctors at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases were given their first doses.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong got his first dose on Jan 8, along with Singapore General Hospital staff at the official launch of vaccinations for healthcare workers.
Community care workers Ren Ci nursing home in Bukit Batok also received jabs on Monday, as did frontline healthcare officers from the Home Team.