SINGAPORE - Supplies of the Covid-19 vaccine will not be reserved for people who choose to hold back when their turn to get the jab comes, said co-chair of the multi-ministerial task force tackling the pandemic Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (Jan 19).
Instead, the vaccines will go to whoever is next in line.
This is because Singapore's aim is to get everyone vaccinated as soon as it can, said Mr Wong, who is Education Minister.
"For those who choose not to take (it) up, it's your choice. But we will roll out and push out the vaccines regardless," he added.
"If you want to wait, you must accept the consequence that perhaps if you wait... and you want to take it up later on, we may not have a ready supply."
Singapore's nationwide vaccination effort is now well under way, with priority going to healthcare staff, as well as those working in the aviation and maritime sectors.
It has received several shipments of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine to date, and expects to get more vaccines from other manufacturers in the coming months.
If everything goes according to plan, the country will have enough vaccines for all citizens and long-term residents by the third quarter of this year.
Addressing reporters at a press conference to mark one year of Singapore's battle with Covid-19, Mr Wong noted that Singapore pushes out each batch of the vaccine as soon as it gets a fresh supply.
"We are not trying to hold back or ration the supply - it's not in Singapore's interest to do that," he said. "Our interest is to get as many people vaccinated as soon as possible."
Added Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, the task force's other co-chair: "We are not going to reserve some for you if you decide not to be vaccinated."
If the scientific evidence indicates that vaccines significantly reduce the risk of transmission, the Government could make changes to existing rules, Mr Wong said.
For example, the stay-home notice period for travellers might be reduced or eliminated, while workers who currently have to undergo routine testing could have this requirement reduced. In addition, Singapore might further relax its safe management measures.
At present, however, it is not yet known how much the vaccine can reduce the risk of viral transmission, so these tangible and concrete benefits of vaccination cannot be reaped while the information is still pending, said Mr Wong.
When asked how the Government would convince reluctant Singaporeans to take the vaccine, Mr Gan stressed the importance of public education.
For seniors, the authorities will probably go from house to house, explaining the benefits of getting vaccinated and helping people to make bookings, he said.
The minister urged Singaporeans to think hard about whether or not to hold back on getting vaccinated.
"Today, our number of cases is low. Some may have the misperception that it's quite safe, so it really doesn't matter," he said. "But we must remember that the rest of the world is still burning up; we still have new cases every day and new records being set almost every other day."
Vaccinations will also help speed up Singapore's progress towards a more substantial reopening, Mr Gan added.
Both ministers were also asked how they felt after getting vaccinated earlier this month.
"I feel perfectly fine," Mr Gan replied. "That's why we are here."
"Kim Yong texted me: 'Is your arm sore?'" Mr Wong added. "I said: 'Yah, mine is quite sore. So we both had sore arms - that's all."
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This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.