Expert committee hits back at open letter by 12 S'pore doctors saying mRNA Covid-19 vaccine not safe & not effective for those aged 12-15

Swift rebuttal and retraction.

Belmont Lay | May 22, 2021, 05:46 PM

A group of 12 doctors penned an open letter on Thursday night, May 20, pertaining to the risks of Covid-19 vaccination for children.

Their piece called for children to be given traditional Covid-19 vaccines instead of mRNA ones.

The open letter was posted on the HardwareZone forum.

It was initially accessible on the forum, but appears to have been taken down.

The open letter also made its way onto Telegram in one chat on vaccination.

Retraction of letter

However, within a day, a retraction subsequently appeared in some chats.

Eleven of the 12 doctors retracted the letter.

The retraction was confirmed by Paul Yang, the author of the letter and one of the doctors.

Yang, a general practitioner, told The Straits Times: "The letter was posted prematurely. It is a letter of advice to my church parents' group. The technical issues are unfortunately too complicated, but accurate factually."

What letter said

The open letter was addressed to "all parents deciding to vaccinate or not to vaccinate their child".

It led to concern among some parents of young children.

The letter was taken seriously as two of the doctors who signed it had also put their names down on an open letter in February 2020 calling on people to wear masks when going out some two months before it was made mandatory in Singapore.

The doctors, in this current letter, cast doubt on mRNA vaccines, saying the "long-term side effects are unknown and unstudied".

The letter also supports killed-virus technology, which "has been around for decades and has a very long and safe track record".

This has been taken to mean an explicit approval by the doctors for the Sinovac vaccine.

The letter also said the mRNA vaccines do not "effectively stop" children "from becoming vectors" that pass on the disease.

Singapore is using two vaccines utilising mRNA technology, both of which are produced by Pzifer-BioNTech and Moderna.

mRNA technology gets cells to make a protein piece on its surface that triggers an immune response.

This method differs from the Sinovac vaccine, where killed virus is used.

Other doctors speak out against open letter

Doctors and scientists have spoken out against the open letter.

Ooi Eng Eong, a professor at Duke-NUS Medical School, an expert on emerging infectious diseases who has been involved in developing an mRNA vaccine, said the letter's argument is "pseudoscience".

He added that the content is based on "a lot of misunderstanding of molecular biology and immunology".

He said, as reported by ST: "The development of mRNA vaccine, although rapid, was based on more than 20 years of painstaking research. This vaccine technology was not assembled in a hurry. Instead, the world was fortunate that this technology matured at a time when it was needed most."

Desmond Wai, a gastroenterologist in private practice, said any question should be posed to MOH or the experts directly, especially if there are deviations "from the mainstream", ST reported.

Otherwise, it will lead to public confusion at a time when the public takes doctors' advice seriously.

Kenneth Lyen, a paediatrician in private practice, said it is safer to be vaccinated than not, ST also reported.

Doctor and MP Koh Poh Koon took to Facebook to slam the letter:

Swift debunking

Following the retraction of the letter by 11 of the 12 doctors, the contents of the piece has been debunked by other experts in Singapore.

Singapore's expert committee on Covid-19 vaccination said on Friday, May 21 in response that the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in children aged 12 to 15 has been assessed to be safe and effective.

"The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is currently the only Covid-19 vaccine anywhere in the world that has been authorised for use in adolescents aged 12 to 15 years," the expert committee said.

"HSA (Health Sciences Authority) and the Expert Committee had reviewed the safety and efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine based on the clinical trials for individuals in this age group."

"The safety profile of the vaccine is consistent with the known safety profile in the adult population and the standards set for other registered vaccines used in the immunisation against other diseases."

The expert committee also noted that 11 of the 12 doctors named in the open letter have since retracted their statement.

The committee said the Singapore population, including adolescents, continue to remain at risk of infection and onward transmission to their close contacts.

"This is seen in the recent local cases and outbreaks involving schoolgoing children who had been infected with Covid-19 and transmitted it to their family members and schoolmates," it said.

Prescribing what to do, the expert committee added: "The expert committee therefore recommends that with the availability of a safe and efficacious vaccine, all eligible persons should receive the vaccine to attain as high a population coverage of Covid-19 vaccination as possible."

The expert committee also addressed the claims made in the letter that one's DNA can be changed by mRNA vaccination in the long run.

The expert committee said: "Covid-19 vaccines cannot alter your DNA. The Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine comprises messenger RNA (mRNA) that contains the instructions to enable the vaccine recipient to build a protein component of the Sars-CoV-2 virus ("spike protein")."

"The spike protein does not cause infection, but is recognised by the body's immune system as foreign. The body then mounts an immune response and produces antibodies that protects against future infection by the virus. The vaccine mRNA is broken down by the body rapidly after the spike protein is built. The mRNA is unable to produce more copies of itself, and cannot enter the nucleus of the human cells where human genetic material ("DNA") is stored."

"Since the human genome is made up of DNA, it is not biologically plausible for the vaccine mRNA to be integrated or to interfere with the DNA of the vaccine recipient."

Existing copy of open letter still available but maybe not for long

A cached version of the open letter signed off with the 12 names of the doctors can be found here.

The full retraction can be found here:

Retraction letter seen on my whatsapp

An open letter to all parents who may have read our letter on 20th May 2021

We are a group of Singaporean Doctors, who are of the view that MOH should quickly approve a killed-virus vaccine for our children and adults.

We like to withdraw all our humble ponderings, as some of our thoughts may be misunderstood by some laypersons. We will henceforth, ponder in a more professional and private forum.

Top photo via Unsplash