Getting vaccinated amidst the COVID-19 pandemic
In the midst of this COVID-19 global pandemic, vaccinations are certainly a hot topic right now. Here’s everything you need to know about getting your COVID-19 vaccination.
Why should I get the COVID-19 vaccine?
The biggest reason upfront: to reduce your risk of getting COVID-19.
COVID-19 is a contagious life-threatening disease with effects that could have potential long-term effects on both an individual’s physical and mental health. Expert opinion is that the current approved COVID-19 vaccines may help prevent you from being infected by the virus and mitigate the symptoms in the event that you do get infected.
In that same vein, if more people get vaccinated against the virus, this would greatly minimise the risk of transmission within the community and prevent the country’s healthcare system from being overwhelmed.
If a high percentage of the population is able to get vaccinated, this would also help to protect vulnerable groups who aren’t able to receive the vaccine — such as people with compromised immune systems, those with allergies to the vaccine components, pregnant women, and children under 16. As such, it’s important that residents take the chance to register for their vaccine as soon as it is available to them.
Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe?
There are currently three manufacturers for the COVID-19 vaccines available in Singapore — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Sinovac.
Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have been assessed by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) to have met safety and efficacy standards based on global and local data. Both are part of the national vaccine programme. According to Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, Singapore’s Chief Health Scientist (who is also a member of the Expert Committee on COVID-19 Vaccination), even though the vaccines have been rapidly developed due to medical advancements and increased funding to vaccine development, the vaccines are subjected to stringent regulations by both the Health and Sciences Authority in Singapore and international committees.
Sinovac, on the other hand, is allowed for use under the Special Access Route (SAR), but it is not part of the national vaccination programme as it is pending outstanding data for a complete evaluation.
How does the COVID-19 vaccine protect me in the pandemic?
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are both mRNA vaccines — meaning that the vaccine sends “instructions” (in this case, mRNA) to cells to create a chain reaction that results in our bodies producing antibodies to protect us from the COVID-19 virus.
How this works: The vaccine sends instructions for cells to produce a harmless protein piece that’s also unique to the COVID-19 virus. Once the cell displays the protein piece on its surface, the body’s immune system recognises that it doesn’t belong there, thus provoking an immune response that produces antibodies against the COVID-19 virus. Thus, those who have received the vaccine gain protection against the virus without having to get sick from the virus itself.
Sinovac uses a more traditional method of vaccination that introduces inactivated viruses into the body. As the virus is inactivated, it will not spread, but the body’s immune system will still be able to recognise the virus and trigger an adaptive immune response.
As the virus spreads rapidly around the world, new strains of the virus naturally start to develop through mutation. That said, changes or mutations to the virus should not render existing vaccines completely ineffective — there is currently no evidence at this time suggesting that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s vaccines do not protect against specific COVID-19 strains, including the UK’s reported variant, according to the MOH. The best way to combat this is to quickly stop the spread of the virus and prevent it from mutating too much.
Who can get the COVID-19 vaccine in Singapore?
Since the first COVID-19 vaccine shots were administered on 30 December 2020, Singapore has been rolling out its vaccination plan in phases.
The COVID-19 vaccine was first offered to essential frontline workers in January 2021. Subsequently, vaccinations for seniors aged 70 years and above commenced island-wide in February 2021. On 24th March 2021, residents aged 45 to 59 could start registering their interest in getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
Now, all individuals aged 12 and above can receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
As of 21 June 2021, over 5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered — with over 2.5 million individuals having received at least one dose of the vaccine and more than 2 million among them having completed both vaccine doses.
How much does the COVID-19 vaccine cost?
Under the national vaccine programme, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are completely free for all Singaporean Citizens, Permanent Residents and long-term residents — including long-term work pass holders and foreign domestic workers.
Sinovac has also been made available at selected private clinics at an admin fee of $10 to $25, depending on the clinic.
How do I sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine?
Healthcare and frontline workers whose employers have submitted their details to MOH will receive a link for booking their appointments, along with a unique booking code sent by SMS.
For residents that qualify for vaccine registration, you can register online here.
As of 1 June 2021, seniors aged 60 and above can simply walk into any of the COVID-19 vaccination centres and get their jab on the spot — no prior booking required.
If you’ve lost your booking code, you can contact MOH at 1800 333 9999 for assistance.
Where can I get a COVID-19 vaccination?
Individuals can receive Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines at selected private clinics, polyclinics, as well as any of the 37 vaccination centres available island-wide.
Sinovac vaccines have also been made available at selected private clinics.
What happens during the COVID-19 vaccination process?
Singaporeans will be able to choose the type of vaccine they receive (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna), and you will be receiving your two shots from the same manufacturer.
According to individuals who have received their first or second shot of the vaccine (administered into the muscle of the upper arm), most report that the injection itself is relatively painless. You might experience some soreness in your arm after, as well as some mild side effects (See Normal Side Effects below). It is recommended that you plan at least one day of rest after receiving your COVID-19 shot.
In order to complete the full regimen, you will need to receive two doses of the vaccine. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses are 21 days apart, while the Moderna vaccine doses are 28 days apart. This is to ensure that you get full protection from the vaccine that will last as long as possible.
If you are not feeling well on the day of your scheduled appointment, DO NOT go for the appointment. You may cancel and rebook your appointment via the unique SMS link initially sent to you if you have not received the first dose yet. If you are slated to receive your second dose, contact MOH for assistance.
Are there any potential side effects for the COVID-19 vaccine?
After getting your COVID-19 vaccine, you might experience some soreness in your arm, along with some mild symptoms such as fatigue, fever and headaches. These symptoms are a natural effect of your body’s immune system building protection against the COVID-19 virus, and should clear up within a few days.
Is there a chance that I could get COVID-19 from the vaccine itself?
The current COVID-19 vaccines in the Singapore market cannot make you sick with COVID-19 — the vaccines themselves do not contain the live virus.
However, there is still a chance that a person can still get COVID-19 if they are infected just before or after receiving their vaccine shot, or in between the two doses. That’s because our bodies will not be able to instantly be immune to the virus, and will take some time to develop protection against COVID-19.
Singapore’s existing low number of community cases makes the above possibility low as well. However, do remain vigilant about protecting yourself and your community from the virus by always wearing a mask when you’re out, frequently washing your hands and by seeing a doctor if you come down sick with any respiratory symptoms.
Another possible side effect of vaccines is allergic reactions, which can range from mild to severe. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a minority of the population might experience some allergic reactions to COVID-19 vaccines.
These reactions range from:
- A rash on the arm near the site of injection
- Non-severe reaction: hives, swelling and wheezing within four hours of getting the vaccine
- Severe reaction: anaphylactic shock
According to data from the US and UK since the vaccine rollout, about eleven per one million people might get severe allergic side effects. Beyond that, the rate of serious side effects is very low.
In Singapore, vaccinated individuals are monitored for half an hour at the vaccination site, with the vaccination site equipped with facilities, medications and staff ready to deal with a severe allergic reaction and to minimise the risk of complications to those receiving the vaccine.
In addition, the MOH has opened the Vaccine Injury Financial Assistance Programme for applications, which will provide financial assistance in the case that any individual suffers from a serious side effect related to their COVID-19 vaccine. This is to give those deciding whether to get vaccinated or not more support and greater peace of mind.
Keeping yourself and your loved ones safe in a pandemic
All in all, the aim of Singapore’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout is to safely and quickly protect the community from the virus, in order to safeguard our lives and livelihoods.
While waiting to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, getting vaccinated against influenza and other preventable diseases (such as cervical cancer) is especially important as well, so do remember to keep up with your regular vaccination schedule.