The first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by United States pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German firm BioNTech arrived in Singapore on 21 December 2020 after the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) of Singapore granted interim authorisation for its use.
Singapore is one of the first countries to obtain this vaccine, which is also being used by Britain, Bahrain, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and the United States.
While some have expressed concerns about the efficacy and safety of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, others are willing to get it as soon as it is available to them.
If you wish to take the vaccine, this article will help you to answer questions regarding the eligibility, safety, and cost of the vaccine. It will cover:
- What is the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine?
- What is the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine?
- Is it compulsory to take the COVID-19 vaccine?
- Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe to take?
- Who can take the COVID-19 vaccine?
- How much will it cost me to take the vaccine?
- Where can we go to get vaccinated?
What is the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine?
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine involving the injection of parts of the genetic code of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (which causes COVID-19). This is so that the patient’s body will develop a protective response without being exposed to the virus itself.
According to the vaccination regime submitted by Pfizer-BioNTech, two doses of the vaccine have to be administered 21 days apart in individuals aged 16 years and above. It will take another 14 days after the second dose for the vaccine to deliver maximum protection against the COVID-19 virus.
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has been authorised by the HSA under the Pandemic Special Access Route (PSAR).
What is the Efficacy of the COVID-19 Vaccine?
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has a 95% efficacy rate, which means that people who receive the vaccine are not likely to experience symptoms of COVID-19 infection.
However, research is still being conducted as to whether the vaccine is effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19 infection, as a vaccinated individual may still get infected and pass on the virus to others. A possible reason for this could be because the vaccine requires time to take effect.
Furthermore, while data has shown that the vaccine continues to be effective for at least 2 months, it is also unclear as to how long the vaccine can protect individuals against COVID-19 for.
Is it Compulsory to Take the COVID-19 Vaccine?
In Singapore, it is not compulsory to take the COVID-19 vaccine, although Singapore’s vaccination strategy is that all medically eligible adults should be vaccinated.
Much like many other vaccines in Singapore that are not mandatory, the government has expressed that it wants to respect people’s choice. The vaccine’s profile and side effects are still being studied and individuals’ medical conditions must also be taken into account before being vaccinated to ensure a safe vaccination.
Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe to Take?
Both the HSA and the Ministry of Health’s Expert Committee on COVID-19 Vaccination have concluded that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is effective and safe.
The HSA has thoroughly reviewed all the available scientific and clinical data. The data reviewed include those from pre-clinical studies from laboratories, clinical trials in volunteers, manufacturing and quality controls and ongoing results from the actual implementation of the vaccine.
The HSA has indicated that the vaccine has met the required safety, efficacy and quality standards and that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the known risks. The HSA’s assessment and recommendations were further supported by the Medicines Advisory Committee and Panel of Infectious Diseases Experts (comprising medical doctors and infectious diseases specialists) before interim authorisation was granted.
In assessing the quality, safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine, the Singapore government has also taken steps to ensure that the vaccine complies with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guidelines and strict international standards of safety and efficacy. The international standards used are the same as those used for full vaccine evaluations, except for longer-term data from clinical trials as such data is not yet available for evaluation.
Are there any risks or side effects associated with the COVID-19 vaccine?
The HSA has stated that the safety profile of the COVID-19 vaccine is generally consistent with those of other established vaccines used in immunisation against other diseases. This means that like other registered vaccines, side effects are common and expected.
Side effects may occur due to the body’s natural reaction to build immunity against COVID-19. Such side effects are also temporary and usually resolve within a few days. That being said, not everyone will experience side effects from taking the vaccine.
Examples of side effects that may be experienced by some people after vaccination include pain, redness, swelling at the injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle ache, fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhoea and joint pain.
As with other registered vaccines, although unlikely, individuals may also experience severe allergic reactions requiring prompt medical attention, such as difficulty in breathing, wheezing and swelling around the eyes and lips.
The HSA and Expert Committee have recommended that all vaccine recipients should be monitored on-site for 30 minutes post-vaccination to detect and treat any severe allergic reactions immediately.
In addition, a vaccine injury financial assistance programme will be implemented by the MOH to provide support to those who suffer from serious complications after receiving the vaccine in Singapore. More details on the programme will be released in due time.
Who Can Take the COVID-19 Vaccine?
All Singaporeans and long-term residents are eligible to take the vaccine. However, due to insufficient data on the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine for certain groups of people, the HSA has recommended that individuals in such groups should defer from taking the vaccine as a precautionary measure until more data on the safety and efficacy for these groups is available.
Such groups of people include:
- Pregnant women
- Immunocompromised patients
- Those below the age of 16
- Those with a history of severe allergies or anaphylaxis (rapid onset of severe allergic reactions)
Can foreigners residing in Singapore take the vaccine?
There is nothing to suggest that foreigners residing in Singapore would not be allowed to take the vaccine.
Also, the Ministry of Manpower has stated that the COVID-19 vaccine will be offered to all migrant workers. This will be done in a phased approach that will consider the needs of the community and the population at large.
Can only those infected by COVID-19 take the vaccine?
You do not need to have been infected by COVID-19 to be able to take the vaccine.
Priority will, however, be given to certain groups of people provided that they do not have medical conditions that make it harmful to administer the vaccine on them. Such groups are at greater risk of COVID-19 infection, such as the healthcare and frontline workers, the vulnerable (including the elderly), those with underlying conditions, as well as those in jobs where the risk of a super-spreading event is high (including migrant workers).
Underlying conditions include cancer, heart conditions and chronic kidney disease, among others that would put individuals with such conditions at an increased risk of severe illness from contracting COVID-19.
Singapore’s COVID-19 vaccination exercise began on 30 December 2020 with priority being given to healthcare workers. Elderly aged 70 and above will be vaccinated from February 2021, as the MOH has said patients in this age group are more vulnerable than those aged 60 to 69.
The rest of the Singaporeans and long-term residents who are medically eligible will then be progressively vaccinated. It has been announced there would be an adequate supply of the COVID-19 vaccine for everyone in Singapore by the third quarter of 2021.
Can Muslims take the vaccine too?
There may be concerns as to the ingredients contained in the COVID-19 vaccine, as Muslims are not allowed to consume food or ingredients derived from pigs.
Singapore’s Mufti has permitted Covid-19 vaccines for Muslims in Singapore due to the urgency of the situation. The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) had also issued an irsyad (religious guidance) urging Muslims to be vaccinated once the vaccine is available and medically authorised as safe and effective.
Muis has advised that the vaccine is permitted for use by Muslims as it is a basic necessity in the pandemic. The objectives of the vaccine and processes involved are also aligned with established Islamic principles of sanctity and safety of human life, and protection of livelihoods.
In addition, the prohibited substances would have undergone multiple layers of chemical processes that would render them undetectable or negligible in the final product and thus permissible for Muslim use. Mufti has further advised that mRNA vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine, are fully synthetic and do not contain any animal components.
How Much Will it Cost Me to Take the Vaccine?
Vaccinations will be free for all Singaporeans as well as long-term residents currently in Singapore, including long-term work permit holders. This is to ensure the accessibility of the vaccine and a higher rate of vaccination.
Where Can We Go to Get Vaccinated?
As the vaccines continue to be distributed nationwide, the government is preparing to make vaccinations available at clinics and vaccination centres.
Prior bookings are required due to the storage requirements of the vaccines and to maximise operational efficiency. The government will provide more information in due time.
We hope this article has been useful in explaining some of the key questions you may have about the COVID-19 vaccine. If you are medically eligible, you are encouraged to get vaccinated once it is made available to you, to protect not just yourself but also others around you.