Singapore is preparing to roll out COVID-19 vaccinations, but the city-state’s striking success in controlling the virus raises questions about whether it should take the bites.
In a country where respect by authorities is generally high, some Singaporeans fear that the potential side effects – however small – are not worth the risk when daily cases are near zero and deaths are among the lowest in the world.
“Singapore is doing pretty well,” said Aishwarya Kris, who is in her 40s and does not want to be shot.
“I doubt the vaccine will help at all.”
A poll by local newspaper The Straits Times in early December found that 48% of respondents said they would receive a vaccine when it became available and 34% would wait six to 12 months.
But the government is keen to open up the economy further with the help of the vaccine in a country dependent on travel and trade.
“Singapore is a victim of its own success,” said Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease specialist at the city’s Mount Elizabeth Hospital.
To show that the vaccine is safe, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 68, said he and his colleagues would be among the first beneficiaries of the vaccines.
The first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived this week, and Singapore expects to have enough vaccine for its 5.7 million people by the third quarter of 2021.
The first vaccines will be given to priority groups such as health workers in the next few months or two, but it will be some time before they are offered to the general population, said Lawrence Wong, minister who co-leads the Singapore Virus Working Group. The vaccinations will be free and voluntary.
“The deployment to the people of Singapore will also take place over several months, depending on factors such as vaccine supply and delivery schedules,” he said.
Many Singaporeans have said they are ready to be vaccinated – not only to avoid infection, but in the hope that they can travel again. For others, it is a civic duty.
“I’m the one in the family who goes to work daily, so it’s the responsible thing to do,” said Jeff Tan, a photographer, 39.
Singapore acted quickly after the first cases of the virus were reported and although it was blinded by tens of thousands of cases in migrant worker dormitories, he brought the epidemic under control.
Singaporeans are generally accepted by vaccines, with nearly 90% use of crucial childhood vaccines, said Dr Hsu Li Yang of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore.
But there are concerns about a new vaccine that uses new technology and has gone through a rapid development and approval process. Typically, vaccine acceptance takes time, he said.
Even three nurses told Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity that they would prefer not to be vaccinated.
Singapore’s pharmaceutical regulator said it granted approval after data submitted by Pfizer-BioNTech was evaluated to demonstrate that the vaccine meets required standards of safety, efficacy and quality and that the benefits outweigh the known risks.
Pfizer’s vaccine has been linked to a few cases of severe allergic reactions as it has been rolled out in the UK and US. But it hasn’t revealed any serious long-term side effects in large-scale clinical trials.
John Han, a sales manager, said he wanted to wait until 80% of the population took the vaccine without side effects.
“If there is a choice, I might not take it. I don’t mind putting on the mask, being safe, avoiding crowded places, ”said Han, 40.