S'pore to get bivalent vaccines which protect against original Covid-19 strain & Omicron variant

"A decision will be announced soon," Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said.

Ashley Tan | September 13, 2022, 03:01 PM

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Although the number of Covid-19 cases in Singapore has dropped significantly since the pandemic started, the population must continue to keep its vaccinations up to date.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung urged people to continue exercising social responsibility and to self-test and stay home when feeling unwell.

Additionally, the government is currently working to bring in bivalent Covid-19 vaccines, which are Covid-19 vaccine boosters that target both the "ancestral strain" of Covid-19 and the Omicron variant.

The bivalent vaccines will thus offer broad protection against Covid-19 and better protection against the Omicron variant, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Bringing in bivalent vaccines to Singapore

Speaking in Parliament, Ong shared that the bivalent vaccines are provided for in Singapore's agreements with pharmaceutical companies.

As vaccine formulations improve, the government will continue to update its National Vaccination Programme.

The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has already completed its evaluation of the Moderna bivalent vaccine.

"A decision will be announced soon," Ong said, with more details to be revealed when arrangements are confirmed.

Nevertheless, Ong affirmed that existing vaccines remain highly protective against severe diseases such as the BA.5 variant, and encouraged those eligible to receive another vaccine dose without delay.

Novavax not for children yet

In response to a parliamentary question about whether the Novavax vaccine will be made available to those aged 18 and below, Ong responded that the HSA and the expert committee on Covid-19 vaccination are independently evaluating the vaccine for those aged 12 to 17 years old.

At the moment though, Novavax has not submitted the application for its vaccine to be administered to children under 12 years old.

As the pandemic situation is "dynamic", Ong said that there are currently no plans to include Covid-19 vaccinations into the National Childhood Immunisation schedule.

"With new data, [the Ministry of Health] MOH will review this when appropriate," Ong added.

More about VDS

Ong continued that the government is reviewing the vaccination-differentiated measures (VDS), while also conducting a review of vaccination requirements.

He explained that although some measures such as mask-wearing have been removed, other VDS "are kept in some form in anticipation of another infection wave". He added:

"This is the nature of crisis management. We stand down many measures when it's not needed, but we need to keep some in anticipation of something worse happening later."

Difficult to adopt blanket policy on removal of VDS

In a supplementary question, Jamus Lim of the Workers' Party questioned if the public sector would consider a complete removal of VDS.

"So I understand the desire by the ministry to allow the private sector to retain maximum flexibility in terms of vaccination-differentiated measures. But I'm wondering if the public sector will move toward a complete removal? And I ask in part because I believe many of us do have residents that for religious, health or personal reasons, who have chosen not to be vaccinated."

Ong responded that it would be difficult to adopt a "blanket policy" by removing VDS requirements for the entire public sector, as such measures are dependent on the settings.

"It depends on whether it is crowded, whether seniors are present in those settings, what is the risk of transmission. So I think we always need to take a differentiated approach."

As Covid-19 becomes endemic, daily life has to be adjusted in order to live with the virus, and Ong believed that "according to the risks of different settings, we adopt the necessary measures to manage the risk".

Therefore, building owners and employers are allowed to impose their own VDS requirements. Ong added that the review on VDS should be completed in the next "couple of months".

Top photo from MOH.