SOME health experts in the city-state are calling for mandatory vaccination against the coronavirus with a growing toll of severe Covid-19 among unvaccinated people as infections surge and with vaccine take-up plateauing at 82% of the population.
The government has linked reopening to vaccination targets, but it paused the easing of restrictions this month to watch for signs that severe infections could overwhelm the health system.
“I would love to see vaccine mandates in over 60s. They are the group most likely to die,” said Dale Fisher, an infectious disease expert at the National University Hospital in Singapore.
“It’s the same reason that age group was selected early for vaccines, the same reason that age group has been selected for booster jabs.”
Singapore has been a model for coronavirus mitigation since the pandemic began with mandatory masks, effective contact tracing and a closed border.
In all, 62 of its 5.7 million people have died and new daily infections were for months no more than a handful.
But, as elsewhere in South-East Asia, the Delta variant has in recent months been spreading and new daily cases have risen to about 1,000.Several countries, including the United States, France and Italy, have announced mandatory vaccination programmes, concerned that the Delta variant and a slowdown in vaccinations will thwart plans to get back to normal.
Of vaccinated people in Singapore who caught the virus from May 1 to Sept 16, only 0.09% of them had to go into intensive care or died. The rate for the unvaccinated was 1.7%.
Data for the elderly is particularly striking. Of infected unvaccinated people aged 80 or older, 15% of them had to be treated in intensive care or died. Only 1.79% of the vaccinated in that age group needed intensive care or died.
Singapore has not made vaccination compulsory because the Pfizer and Moderna shots only have emergency approval in the country although it has limited activities such as eating out for the unvaccinated.
With about 87,000 seniors still unvaccinated, some experts say full approval could pave the way for a mandate.
“Vaccination is much more protective than the other measures we have in place, and less economically and socially damaging,” said Alex Cook, an infectious disease modelling expert at the National University of Singapore.
“If we are not to enforce vaccination, it seems odd to enforce weaker and more costly measures.”
The number of patients requiring oxygen support or intensive care jumped more than five-fold this month to 146, including 18 in intensive care units. — Reuters