Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said in Parliament on Tuesday (March 21) that about 15 per cent of Singapore's current Covid-19 vaccines have expired.
The expired stock is said to be worth about $140 million, said Ong during the House's debate about the Covid-19 White Paper.
"In the coming months, this is likely to rise to close to 25%, as more vaccines expire. From there, it should stabilise."
Explaining the situation, Ong said that the expired vaccines are a result of "deliberate" over-procurement to "mitigate the uncertainty of [a] selected vaccine candidate not working, and the possible disruption of supply chains".
The government had also tried to donate the spare vaccines, but there were "no takers", due to an over-supply of vaccines in the world, he added.
Ong further shared that there are reports estimating that the expired vaccines globally could range up to 500 million doses or more.
An 'insurance premium': Ong
Describing the expiry of the unused vaccines as an "insurance premium", Ong said it was a "price we were prepared to pay to stave off the risk of catastrophic consequences".
He brought up the example of how Singapore had to resort to a Circuit Breaker in April 2020 to contain the pandemic, before the vaccines were available.
"The two-month Circuit Breaker cost us around $11 billion in terms of GDP loss. And we spent close to another $60 billion over two years to cushion the hardship for businesses and workers, not to mention the heartaches and difficulties families had to go through."
"Without vaccines, we would certainly have had to resort to further Circuit Breakers during the Delta and Omicron waves of late 2021 and throughout 2022. But we did not have to, because the vaccines protected us.
More importantly, our approach averted many deaths due to Covid-19 infections and protected Singaporeans."
Inter-agency workgroup for vaccine procurement
In the early phase of the pandemic, Ong said that the Ministry set up an inter-agency workgroup comprising senior officials from agencies such as the Prime Minister’s Office Singapore, MOH, A*STAR, Health Sciences Authority (HSA) and Economic Development Board (EDB) to develop Singapore's vaccine procurement approach.
Amid the world's demand for vaccines, the workgroup recommended a portfolio approach, which meant buying a selected number of vaccines across different technology platforms — including both mRNA and non-mRNA platforms.
"Since we did not know which vaccine candidate would work and had to buy several types, we needed to over-procure, such that the combined volumes of all the vaccine candidates more than cover the population of Singapore," said Ong.
The first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines arrived in Singapore in late 2020, and the National Vaccination programme was rolled out in December 2020.
Subsequently, the Moderna vaccine was added to the National Vaccination Programme in March 2021, and Sinovac and Novavax in October 2021 and February 2022 respectively.