Covid-19: Did the government over-promise on vaccines and vaccination?

One would think it is a no-brainer now that the much-awaited much touted life-saving vaccines are available to combat Covid-19, everyone would rush to get their jabs. Before the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, among others, came on stream, the world held its breath as millions died and ICU facilities were overwhelmed and the talk was that having a vaccine would solve the problem, like the flu was controlled through vaccination. And yet not all are convinced. Also, to compound the vaccine hesitancy, bad enough in itself, was an impression given months earlier that Singapore was going to be in the vanguard of the vaccine action in the region.

Two sets of numbers stood out from recent Multi-Ministerial Taskforce press briefings. Forty-nine per cent of the population have taken their first doses of vaccination, and “slightly over” 35 per cent are fully vaccinated with both doses, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on June 18. In an update on his Facebook yesterday (June 19), he said it is now more than half with first dose and 36 per cent having had both doses.

Co-chair Lawrence Wong, the Finance Minister, cautioned: “And that’s not high enough, particularly the full vaccination rates. Our vaccine coverage for the vulnerable groups, the elderly, it’s not bad. It’s certainly above 60 per cent but still not high enough, especially for those who are above 70 years old. We would like it to be much higher in order to protect our vulnerable groups.”

Note that: “Not high enough.”

Right on cue, Kenneth Mak, Director of Medical Services, added. Out of 56 cases emerging out of the Bukit Merah View market and food centre cluster as of June 18, as high as 50 per cent were not vaccinated, he said.

Do we have a problem?

Asked about our actual vaccination targets, Wong pointed to two key milestones: 50 per cent of the population to be fully vaccinated hopefully by August, and another push to 75 per cent at a later date.

It has been said that a community herd immunity of sorts should kick in at around that 75 per cent figure. This is from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: “Depending on how contagious an infection is, usually 50 to 90 per cent of a population needs immunity before infection rates start to decline. But this percentage isn’t a “magic threshold” that we need to cross – especially for a novel virus. Both viral evolution and changes in how people interact with each other can bring this number up or down. Below any “herd immunity threshold”, immunity in the population (for example, from vaccination) can still have a positive effect. And above the threshold, infections can still occur. The higher the level of immunity, the larger the benefit. This is why it is important to get as many people as possible vaccinated.”

The fight against Covid-19 is not just medical. It is also psychological and financial. Many elderly, especially if they are poor and already suffering from ill-health, may not have that strong a motivation or capability to take care of themselves.

Do more to help them even as we, as Lawrence Wong said, adopt a cautious approach to reopening to allow the authorities to “buy time” so that more people can be vaccinated.

Vaccination is crucial. No disagreement here. And Singaporeans should be kept fully informed and up to date on what is happening. There was a lot of earlier talk about how we managed to secure more than sufficient supplies of vaccines. And on how we wanted to be the centre of regional distribution.

In December last year, the then Trade and Industry MInister Chan Chun Sing said: “Singapore is in talks with major suppliers of Covid-19 vaccines on the possibility of being a regional distributor and playing a part in the final stages of vaccine production…

“We have plans to work with the major suppliers, not so much on the production itself – which is done in Europe and the United States – but if there’s a possibility for us to do what we call ‘fill and finish’ to help in the global distribution (sic).”

Prime Minister reinforced this strategy: “We are quietly confident that we do have the capabilities in Singapore, not just to bring the vaccine in… but also, if need be, to help distribute the vaccines to the region,” he said.

Several pharmaceutical firms have established vaccine manufacturing capabilities in Singapore, he added. The government was also supporting vaccine development efforts here as an “insurance”, in case global supply chains were disrupted.

And yet only 50 per cent of the Bukit Merah cluster were vaccinated. Somehow, things do not add up.

Easing up, tightening up

Yes, you can dine in from tomorrow with just another person and not four more as expected. As someone said, it is better than nothing.

But, with this easing up comes a zinger, if I got my facts right.

It may not pay to move around unnecessarily. If you happen to be at a place – mall, restaurant or enclosed public spot – where Covid-19 infected persons are detected, you will have to go for swab tests and then isolate yourself until you are cleared as negative.

The more places you wander to, the higher your chances of being inconvenienced – and not just one time but as many as you are at any place of infections.

Shop, eat at one place only and go home, is what the MTF wants you to get used to.

Welcome to the future world of 2021.

Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The . He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company. Follow us on Social Media

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