S'pore approves Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, free for all Singaporeans & long-term residents

If everything goes according to plan, there would be enough vaccines to cover everyone who wants it by end 2021.

Joshua Lee | December 14, 2020, 05:12 PM

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Singapore's Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for pandemic use, announced Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong today (December 14).

Vaccination is voluntary

The first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine should arrive end-December.

A committee of doctors and experts, set up by MOH, has proposed that the entire adult population in Singapore should be vaccinated, but to also make vaccinations voluntary.

Priority for vaccines will be given to those who are at greatest risk, such as healthcare workers and frontline personnel, as well as the elderly and vulnerable.

Vaccines will then be offered to the rest of the population progressively, with the goal of covering everyone who wants vaccination by the end of 2021.

PM Lee also announced that Singapore is also bringing in other vaccines, and if all goes according to plan, there should be enough vaccines for everyone in Singapore by the third quarter of 2021.

Arrangements also made with Moderna, Sinovac

The prime minister added that the Singapore government had been working quietly behind the scenes to secure access to vaccines early in the pandemic and made advance arrangements with "promising candidates" such as American biotech company Moderna and Chinese bio-pharmaceutical company Sinovac, in addition to Pfizer.

Stressing the importance of getting vaccinated, PM Lee said that he and his older colleagues will be getting the vaccine:

"My colleagues and I, including the older ones, will be getting ourselves vaccinated early. This is to show you, especially seniors like me, that we believe the vaccines are safe."

What is the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine & how does it work?

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (named "BNT162b2") is an mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccine.

It was created based on the genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19), which the Chinese government released in January 2020.

The vaccine is genetically coded to instruct our cells to produce the spike protein unique to SARS-CoV-2.

Once the vaccine is injected, our muscle cells produce the protein, triggering our immune system to launch an attack. In future, if we get infected with SARS-CoV-2, our body will remember how to fight that virus.

With an mRNA vaccine, the immune system is able to have a "preview" of what the Covid-19 virus will look like, without actually getting the disease.

However, mRNA vaccines are notoriously unstable. They have to be kept at super-cool temperatures (Pfizer's vaccine must be stored at -70°C) and once in the body, they can be easily broken down by the immune system before they reach their target.

This is why Pfizer wraps its vaccine in oily bubbles made of lipid nanoparticles, so that the vaccine can reach its target in the body.

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