With the wave of Omicron cases that have been engulfing Europe, Australia, and the United States alike, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung and health experts have stated that Singapore must brace itself for a “much bigger” COVID-19 wave on Wednesday (5 Jan).
The reason is simple but unfortunate: compared to the previous variants, the current series of vaccines have proven to be less effective against the Omicron Variant, owing to its unique mutations.
Necessity of Booster Shots
In a Multi-Ministry Task Force Press Conference on 14 December 2021, Health Minister Ong reported some important insights from the United Kingdom (UK).
- For two doses of Pfizer-Biotech, vaccine effectiveness against Omicron will drop from 90% in the first month to around 50% by the third month
- Two weeks after taking a booster shot, the vaccine effectiveness increases back to 75%.
- For two doses of Moderna vaccines, its effectiveness will drop to 86.1% after 120 days.
Therefore, a validity period for full vaccination status will be set.
For individuals with only two mRNA vaccines and three doses of Sinovac/Sinopharm vaccines, the full vaccination status will last for a limited period.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) has declared that waning effects of the vaccines is a “clear signal” that booster shots are necessary; they are not a choice.
Consequently, in a press conference that occurred on 5 January, Health Minister Ong readdressed the matter of vaccination validity with more succinct and definite details.
Firstly, he confirmed that Omicron is indeed more transmissible than the Delta variant, and infection rates of the Omicron Variant are likely to be worse than what we witnessed of the Delta Variant last November.
Secondly, studies being published in various countries have indicated that Omicron infections are less severe than the Delta variant.
Currently, more than 87% of the Singaporean population is double-dosed on COVID-19 vaccines, and over 90% of every eligible age group has been vaccinated.
For booster shots, more than 42% of the population has received their booster shots, with 89% of the elderly aged 60 years and above having taken their boosters.
Health Minister Ong urges that COVID-19 Vaccination Programmes need to be treated as a three-dose regime for the mRNA vaccines, since two doses of mRNA vaccines and three doses of Sinovac/Sinopharm vaccines can’t last forever.
Its effectiveness needs to be reinforced with a booster.
Conclusions to the Vaccine Validity
Therefore, dear readers, there are two important time periods to keep in mind
150 days or five months after taking your double doses of mRNA vaccines or third dose of Sinovac/Sinopharm vaccine – you will be requested to take your booster shot.
290 days or nine months after taking the doses mentioned above, your full vaccination status will lapse and be rendered ineffective. This will affect your access to vaccination-differentiated venues like malls and restaurants.
This policy will come into effect from Monday, 14 February 2022.
Possibility of a Fourth Vaccine Shot
Thus far, a fourth vaccine shot has not been confirmed by MOH while booster shots are still being encouraged and arranged for those eligible and nearing the end of their vaccination validity.
However, judging from the information from BioNtech and Pfizer, the vaccine manufacturers are trying to adapt their vaccines within six weeks to ensure that their boosters can work against the “escape variant” and ensure lower infection rates of Omicron.
Similarly, on Moderna’s end, they are also developing a mRNA vaccine that specifically targets Omicron since it is the prevailing variant right now. Moderna is also studying the possibility of “multivalent” boosters that target common mutations which have been noticed across multiple variants.
Therefore, there is a possibility that there will be a fourth vaccine shot rolling out, should the Omicron cases in Singapore prove to be unmanageable.
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said in a Facebook post that “whether we need future COVID-19 vaccine doses, depends on how fast the protection from three doses wanes, and whether the virus keeps mutating.”
Well, at least the good news is that you’d have taken so many jabs, you’d be used to needles poking into your bare skin.
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