Press release by the Expert Committee on COVID-19 Vaccination
The Expert Committee on COVID-19 Vaccination has submitted its recommendations to the government on the overall COVID-19 vaccination strategy for Singapore on 24 December 2020.
2. The Expert Committee on COVID-19 Vaccination was convened by the Ministry of Health in October 2020 to make recommendations to the government on Singapore’s COVID-19 vaccination strategy, including ensuring the safe and effective use of COVID-19 vaccines in Singapore’s population groups. It closely monitors the global vaccine landscape and recommendations by global authorities, makes detailed assessments of vaccine candidates for their safety, efficacy and suitability for the different segments of Singapore’s population based on the latest clinical data, and makes recommendations on the population groups which should be prioritised for vaccination. Please refer to Annex A for the composition of the Expert Committee.
Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine suitable for use in Singapore
3. The Expert Committee has independently reviewed the clinical data on the safety and efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, and concurs with the indications for the interim authorisation granted by the Health Sciences Authority for use of the vaccine in Singapore under the Pandemic Special Access Route. The Committee has assessed that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is suitable for use in persons aged 16 years old and older in Singapore for the prevention of COVID-19.
4. In assessing the suitability of vaccine candidates for specific population groups, the Expert Committee took into consideration four key criteria – vaccine safety, vaccine efficacy, vaccine tolerability, and data adequacy of clinical trials. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has demonstrated a high vaccine efficacy of 95%, and its safety profile is consistent with the high standards set for other registered vaccines used in immunisation against other diseases.
Vaccinate all persons residing in Singapore who are medically eligible for vaccination
5. The Expert Committee recommends to achieve as high a level of population coverage for COVID-19 vaccination as possible, so as to markedly reduce the overall proportion of the population that is susceptible to the disease and likelihood of uncontrolled chains of transmission. A high vaccination coverage in the population also indirectly protects others who may not be suitable for vaccination yet. When vaccines become more widely available, everyone residing in Singapore who is medically eligible for vaccination should be vaccinated, although vaccination should remain voluntary.
Prioritise population subgroups to maximise the beneficial impact of vaccination
6. In view of the limited supply of vaccines, the current disease epidemiology and the public health considerations, the Expert Committee recommends the following groups to be prioritised for vaccination using the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine:
a. Persons at high risk of being infected by COVID-19, including healthcare workers and workers at the frontline of our national COVID-19 response. There is a duty to protect these workers who place themselves at higher risk of infection in the course of caring for our population, and to ensure the continued effective functioning of our healthcare system, and our national systems for preventing and containing epidemic spread.
b. Persons who are most vulnerable to severe disease and complications if they fall ill with COVID-19, including the elderly and persons with vascular medical comorbidities. Even in the older age groups, COVID-19 patients 70 years old and above have worse health outcomes than those aged 60 to 69 years old. Where vaccine supply is limited, the Expert Committee recommends starting vaccinations of persons aged 70 years and above, followed by persons aged 60 to 69 years.
7. The Expert Committee also recommends that around 5% of available vaccine stocks at any given point in time be set aside for specific groups of persons who are of critical importance to the functioning of Singapore (examples could include personnel involved in ensuring that Singapore’s water and utilities, and other nationally essential services are not disrupted), separate from the prioritisation of population subgroups by public health considerations, to ensure that Singapore would be able to continue to function effectively amidst a local outbreak situation. The detailed identification of these groups will be decided by the government as this is beyond the remit of the Expert Committee.
8. Until a significant proportion of the population is vaccinated and more data is available on the vaccine’s duration of protection and its ability to generate a response in the body to prevent infection from the outset, the Expert Committee recommends that ongoing public health measures such as safe distancing, mask wearing and good hand hygiene should continue to be practised. Please refer to Annex B for the full recommendations on Singapore’s COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy by the Expert Committee.
9. Expert Committee chairperson A/Prof Benjamin Ong said, “The Committee has made our recommendations after careful assessment and deliberation of the available clinical data. While Singapore currently has a low rate of local transmission of COVID-19, we remain vulnerable to the threat of a surge in cases. As such, it is important that we achieve as comprehensive a coverage of COVID-19 vaccination as possible across the entire population. We strongly encourage all persons who are medically eligible to be vaccinated when the vaccine is made available to them. In the meantime, we recommend to first vaccinate groups who are at greater risk of exposure, such as healthcare workers and COVID-19 frontline workers, and vulnerable groups at greater risk of severe disease from COVID-19 infection, such as the elderly and those with co-morbidities.”
10. As information on more vaccines becomes available, the Expert Committee will assess and make further recommendations on the subsequent population groups to be vaccinated. It will also continue to monitor and review the use of COVID-19 vaccines in Singapore as more data become available over time.
EXPERT COMMITTEE ON COVID-19 VACCINATION
27 DECEMBER 2020