New COVID-19 vaccine strategy may focus on giving more people their first dose: Ong Ye Kung

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SINGAPORE — The next phase of Singapore's mass vaccination exercise could focus on ensuring more people receive their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, while allowing for a longer waiting period before their second doses are administered.

This strategy is being considered by the government with the aim of giving as many people as possible a "good level of protection" against COVID-19 while not reducing the vaccines' effectiveness, said Health Minister and multi-ministry taskforce co-chair Ong Ye Kung during a virtual press conference on Sunday (16 May).

"There have been many international studies. And (they show) that even with one dose, it confers good protection without compromising efficacy," he added.

Ong said that local scientists and the government's expert committee on COVID-19, along with immunologists around the world, share the opinion that the administering of the vaccine's second dose can be delayed for longer than the current period of 21 to 28 days from the first dose.

"It can possibly be extended to six to eight weeks without materially impacting the efficacy of the vaccine," he said.

"So this will also be helpful given our situation where we have more cases. And this is something we are studying...once we are ready, not too long in the future, we'll announce the details."

Earlier on Sunday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) reported 49 new cases of COVID-19 infection in Singapore, of which 38 were local transmissions – the highest number of community cases in over a year.

Ong said that those who have appointments to receive their second doses will not be affected once the new strategy is rolled out.

Vaccine supply 'based on arrivals'

When asked if the new strategy is linked to the state of Singapore's vaccine supplies, Ong said that the number of vaccines available fluctuates based on arrivals.

"We have a steady stream of arrival of supplies, both Pfizer as well as Moderna, enough to cover our population, but they come at a certain pace.

"Our vaccination exercise is still pretty much aligned in tandem with the arrival of supplies. If we have a lot of supplies, of course, we will do it faster," said Ong. Singapore's vaccine rollout has seen one-quarter of the population fully vaccinated with two doses and one-third of the population having received at least one dose thus far, according to Ong.

Also speaking on the vaccine supply issue, Education Minister and former Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing pointed out that Singapore's vaccine capacity is much higher than the vaccine availability here.

Noting the 40 vaccination centres in Singapore, each of which can accommodate up to 2,000 people a day, Chan said, "This gives us the confidence that once vaccines arrive in Singapore, we can get it into the arms of our people in the shortest time possible."

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