COVID-19 Updates: New Vaccination Centre, Virus Variants’ Impact on Singapore

New vaccination centre at Changi T4 can inoculate 4,000 a day

Changi Airport’s Terminal 4 now has a fully operational vaccination centre, set up by Raffles Medical Group. More than 1,000 aviation workers were vaccinated there last week in a trial run of operations.

The full-scale vaccination exercise for air crew and frontline workers began yesterday, on 18 January, and is looking to inoculate 7,000 people this week.

The centre’s lead physician, Dr Tan Joo Peng, has estimated that with the centre’s capacity of 27 vaccination stations, the centre can do up to 4,000 vaccinations a day, based on conservative estimates. “(We have) the ability to scale up further if the nation calls for it,” he also added.

To facilitate the vaccinations, a medical fridge has been brought into the centre. The fridge can store more than 10,000 doses of the vaccine.

“(Proper) storage of the vaccine is critical. We don’t want any wastage,” said Dr Tan.

In case of any adverse reactions to the vaccine, the centre also has doctors, nurses and healthcare attendants on its premises, as well as the necessary resuscitation equipment — such as EpiPens and adrenaline.

Out of 10,000 SATS staff, 2,000 have already registered for vaccination. However, the company does not intend to make vaccinations compulsory.

“It is up to individuals whether or not they want to take the vaccine. Our role is to make sure they have all the facts before they make the decision,” said SATS president and chief executive officer Alex Hungate.

37,000 frontline aviation, maritime workers to be prioritised for COVID-19 vaccine

The opening of vaccination centres for aviation and maritime workers thus mark the start of plans to vaccinate a total of 37,000 workers from the two industries.

Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung announced that about 3,000 workers from the two sectors are already scheduled to be vaccinated this week under the Sea-Air Vaccination Exercise.

These include pilots, cabin crew, aircraft cleaners, security screeners, passenger service agents, baggage handlers, and cargo handlers — all of which may come into contact with travellers from high-risk countries.

Those who have completed the full-course of vaccination will not have to be tested for COVID-19 as regularly.

Those on the seven-day rostered routine testing will only need to be tested every 14 days, while those who are now tested every two weeks will only need to be tested on a monthly basis. These changes will come into effect two weeks after the workers get their second dose of the vaccine.

Mr Ong also described the vaccination exercise as an “important step” for the aviation industry, which has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic.

“You all know that the aviation industry is decimated by COVID-19, but we must have the determination that when the crisis passes, Singapore will be an aviation hub of the region and the world again,” he said.

He further explained that this is why Singapore continues to pursue safe travel schemes, which are aimed at positioning the country’s aviation industry for recovery.

Having Singapore’s frontliners in aviation and maritime vaccinated will also help in terms of the country’s reputation as a safe space amid the global pandemic.

“Singapore Airlines can be the first vaccinated international airline in the world,” he said.

HSA approves new test kit that can detect COVID-19 and seasonal flu

Vaccines aside, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has also authorised a new multi-virus test kit that is able to detect both the seasonal flu and COVID-19.

The Fortitude SARS-CoV-2 & Flu A/B test kit was jointly developed by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), and local molecular diagnostic company MiRXES.

It builds on the existing Fortitude Kit that only tests for COVID-19, adding polymerase chain reaction (PCR) primers that are designed to detect influenza A and B. This will help medical staff distinguish between the seasonal flu and COVID-19 as the two tend to exhibit similar symptoms.

Sales of the new kit have been launched after it obtained approval on 8 January.

The new kit has also obtained the Conformite Europeenne mark approval and is currently awaiting authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration as well as Japan’s Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency.

WHO Chief urges countries to avoid ‘Me-First’ approach for COVID-19 vaccines

Although Singapore has made much progress in its vaccination programme, not the same can be said for other countries. The World Health Organization (WHO)’s Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that the world is on the brink of a “catastrophic moral failure” in sharing the COVID-19 vaccines.

He has urged countries and manufacturers to spread doses more fairly around the world while making note that 44 bilateral deals were signed last year and at least 12 have already been signed this year.

“This could delay COVAX deliveries and create exactly the scenario COVAX was designed to avoid, with hoarding, a chaotic market, an uncoordinated response and continued social and economic disruption,” he said.

Adopting a “me-first” approach when it comes to the vaccines has left the world’s poorest and most vulnerable at risk. “Ultimately these actions will only prolong the pandemic,” he added.

The disparity in vaccination rates is astounding — more than 39 million vaccine doses had been administered in 49 higher-income countries whereas just 25 doses had been given in one poor country.

Can the new COVID-19 strains pose a threat to Singapore?

The WHO has said that two new variants of the virus — the B.1.1.7 reported by the UK and the 501Y.V2, which has spread in South Africa — that causes COVID-19 have raised alarm around the world, as they are said to be more contagious.

The detection of these viruses have already led to tightened travel restrictions for visitors from UK and South Africa, and fresh lockdowns in Europe. Singapore citizens and permanent residents returning from these countries will also have to serve an additional seven days of self-isolation on top of their 14-day stay-home notice.

So far, several people have preliminarily tested positive for the B.1.1.7 strain in Singapore. The first case was a 17-year-old Singaporean woman who returned from the UK on 24 December.

Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health has warned that if these variants circulate freely in Singapore, there will be a risk of an accelerated spread of COVID-19 across the community.

“This is why it is even more important now than ever, to ensure that we keep up with our personal safe management measures such as proper mask-wearing and social distancing,” he said.

With the resumption of more social activities and larger gatherings, infections will also spread much larger. “However, if people continue to keep up with their measures, the risk of an uncontrolled outbreak in Singapore is still small,” Prof Teo added.

Professor Dale Fisher of Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore said that entry points to Singapore such as ports and airports are more vulnerable so these sites need to be “extra vigilant”.


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