Booster shots needed for 'fully vaccinated' status under new policy to be announced: Ong Ye Kung

Two doses are not enough as protection against Covid-19 and its variants wanes over time.

Nigel Chua | December 15, 2021, 01:22 PM

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A new policy is being formulated to determine the expiry of a person's "fully vaccinated" status, and the authorities will require a booster shot for someone's "fully vaccinated" status to be extended past its expiry date.

"We expect to announce the new policy either end of this year or early next year," said Multi-Ministry Taskforce (MTF) co-chair and Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Dec. 14 at a MTF press conference.

The current policy on "fully vaccinated" status has been under review by the Ministry of Health (MOH), the ministry said in reply to a Nov. 10 forum letter.

The letter highlighted that one's fully vaccinated status expires after 365 days plus 14 days after the second dose, as per MOH's Covid-19 regulations, which MOH confirmed as an "interim" duration as studies were still ongoing.

What is the significance of having "fully vaccinated" status?

"Fully vaccinated" status is required for access to many locations in Singapore, due to the imposition of vaccination-differentiated safe management measures (VDS), and Workplace Vaccination Measures.

VDS have been extended to more settings over time, including malls, F&B establishments, coffeeshops and hawker centres, as well as libraries and community centres.

They will be further extended to leisure hotel stays and indoor sports facilities from Feb. 1, 2022.

From Jan. 1, 2022, access to workplaces will be restricted to those who are fully vaccinated, or recently recovered from Covid-19, under Workplace Vaccination Measures announced in October.

Why require booster shots?

Ong cited a UK study on the Pfizer/ BioNTech vaccine's effectiveness against the new Omicron variant.

Two doses of the vaccine, Ong said, were about 90 per cent effective against Omicron infection one month after the second dose.

The effectiveness dropped to about 50 per cent after three months, however.

It dropped further to about 35 per cent, four months and beyond.

Ong said that the "erosion of protection is quite fast," but added that it was "encouraging" that effectiveness against Omicron infection "shot back up to 75 per cent" two weeks after a booster.

Ong said that the above figures were for protection against symptomatic infection, and that protection levels against severe illnesses were likely to be "much higher".

Three dose regime

Ong referred to his remarks at a previous press conference, saying that due to the emergence of new Covid-19 variants, "we need to treat Covid-19 primary vaccination as a three-dose regime".

Public health policy would also "need to be geared towards that", he added.

Thus, there will need to be a "limited period" of validity for the fully vaccinated status of those who have taken two doses of the mRNA vaccines, or three doses of the Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines.

MOH is consulting the Expert Committee on Covid-19 Vaccination (EC19V) to determine what the duration should be, Ong said.

"This is a clear signal that we all need to take our boosters, because with waning protection, full vaccination status cannot last perpetually," said Ong.

"So take our boosters and our full vaccination status will be extended and we will be able to assess various amenities under our VDS framework," he added.

Fully vaccinated status will not lapse for those not given chance to get booster

Ong also gave an assurance that fully vaccinated status would not lapse for those who had not been given a chance to get the booster, or who belonged to a group currently not eligible for boosters.

Booster programme in Singapore

Singapore's booster programme commenced on Sep. 15 for persons aged 60 and above, and was extended to more groups over time, including younger people and frontline workers.

As of Dec. 13, 31 per cent of the population have received booster shots, according to MOH data.

Watch Ong's announcement here:

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Top image by Hor Teng Teng

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