COVID-19 Vaccine & VIFAP in Singapore: Everything you Need to Know

covid-19 vaccine vifap singapore

That moment we’ve all been waiting almost a year for has arrived: COVID-19 vaccines have been invented, approved and are finally available to the general public.

It’s anyone’s guess whether the world will ever go back to normal, but for now, getting vaccinated is one step towards being able to live without fear of infection. And for entire nations or even the world at large, getting a portion of the population vaccinated is probably going to be necessary if we’re ever going to get the virus under control without having to resort to lockdowns.

Here’s what we know so far about the COVID-19 vaccine in Singapore, including who’s footing the bill.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine free?

Yes, the COVID-19 vaccination programme will be free for all Singaporeans and long-term residents in Singapore. At the moment, no cut-off date has been proposed.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine compulsory?

No, it is optional, but strongly encouraged.

The government has said that everyone should be able to get vaccinated by the end of 2021, but at the moment, priority goes to high-risk groups including healthcare and frontline workers and vulnerable people like the elderly or those at greater risk of severe disease from infection.

Vaccination for pregnant women, those with compromised immunity and children under 16 will be deferred until there is more safety and efficacy data.

Can you choose your COVID-19 vaccine?

No, you will not be able to choose which vaccine to get.

At the moment, Singapore has authorised two vaccines: Pfizer and Moderna. The Pfizer vaccine has been rolled out already while the Moderna has not been administered yet. There’s a third vaccine, Sinovac, which is expected to arrive in Singapore soon.

In any case, you won’t be able to pick your preferred vaccine. Instead, they’ll be assigned to you based on your profile and the vaccine’s availability.

Why are people refusing to get vaccinated?

Singapore has managed to bring the number of community infections down to mostly zero. Fear of getting infected when out and about is currently quite low.

So, there is understandably a subset of the population that is hesitant about getting vaccinated and wondering if the potential side-effects are worth braving.

The Straits Times conducted a poll in December 2020, and about 8 out of 10 of the 1,000 people surveyed said they would get the COVID vaccine. However, only 48% said they would get vaccinated the moment the vaccines became available. 34% said they would wait six to 12 months.

Compared to other countries, the overall acceptance rate, with only 9% saying they didn’t want to get vaccinated at all. But the much lower percentage willing to get vaccinated immediately indicates that there is still a high degree of hesitance amongst the population.

For now, Singapore’s low infection rate has probably suppressed urgency to get vaccinated. Borders still remain closed, so getting vaccinated in order to travel is unlikely. Given the circumstances, it is unsurprising that many prefer to wait until we have more information about the potential side effects.

What are the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine?

Some possible side effects include pain and swelling at the site of the injection, fever, headache, fatigue, body aches, giddiness, nausea or allergic reactions such as itching, rashes or swelling of the eyes or lips. These side effects usually go away after a few days.

As of end-January, 432 incidences of side effects had been reported after vaccinating about 113,000 people.

At the time of writing, of the more than 155,000 people in Singapore who have been vaccinated, four of them have had severe allergic reactions.

All four suffered from anaphylaxis, which is an acute allergic reaction which can result in difficulty breathing, tightness of the throat and swelling of the lips. This doesn’t sound so bad, but anaphylaxis requires a visit to the emergency room. Of the four, three had a history of allergies. Luckily, all four have since recovered.

Singapore’s anaphylaxis rate is currently at 2.6 per 100,000 doses, which is higher than incidences of 1 to 2 per 100,000 doses reported abroad. That could be because we have a much smaller sample size.

Just in case, before getting vaccinated, you will have to declare any relevant medical conditions and go through a screening process. In addition, anyone who gets the jab should be observed at the clinic for 30 minutes afterwards in order to promptly detect anaphylaxis or other serious allergic reactions.

At the moment, it’s still too early to know if there are any long-term side effects.

Will the government foot the hospital bill if you have any side effects?

A new financial assistance programme, the tragically-named VIFAP (Vaccine Injury Financial Assistance Programme), will be launched to help those who suffer from serious side effects related to the COVID-19 vaccine.

VIFAP will offer the following lump sum payouts:

  • $10,000 if you are hospitalised in the High Dependency or ICU but subsequently recover from medically significant serious side effects, and
  • $225,000 if you die or suffer permanent severe disability as a result of the vaccine.

To qualify for VIFAP, you must be a Singapore citizen, PR or long-term pass holder who has received the vaccine in Singapore.

Until 31 Dec 2021, all Integrated Shield Plan (IP) providers have also extended coverage to COVID-19 vaccination complications that result in hospitalisation. To qualify, you must be vaccinated with an approved vaccine in Singapore. It is not known yet whether the deadline will be extended.

However, there won’t be any financial assistance for mild side effects that do not require hospitalisation. So if your side effects persist and you need to see a GP to get it treated, you may need to pay for it out-of-pocket.

What can you do after getting vaccinated?

Getting the vaccine doesn’t give you 100% protection against the virus. In addition, it is not yet known whether vaccinated people can still unknowingly spread the virus. The Pfizer and Moderna trials have only tracked the number of people who fall ill after getting vaccinated, but not those who don’t show any symptoms.

What this means is that masks, social distancing and travel restrictions are here to stay for the forseeable future.

That being said, if a large proportion of the population gets vaccinated, the need for safe distancing measures could be reduced, which would take Singapore one step closer to living a normal life, saving local businesses and helping the economy recover.

Should you get your jab or wait?

On an individual level, unless you are in a high risk group or travelling abroad, getting the vaccine right away is not a pressing need since the infection rate is low. If you have a history of serious allergies, you’ll also have to take into account the fact that you are likely to be at a higher risk of serious side effects.

Eventually, however, in order to travel internationally and live normal lives, it’d probably be wise to get the vaccine.

Widespread vaccination would help to raise the population’s collective immunity, which would reduce the need for measures and tracing. Viewed through the collective lens, getting yourself vaccinated ASAP could benefit society as a whole.

How do you register for the COVID-19 vaccine?

At the moment, the COVID-19 vaccine is only available for 2 groups:

  • Healthcare and frontline workers: Employers to nominate you for vaccination, and you’d receive an SMS notification
  • Seniors aged 70 and up: You would have been notified by mail

You can also pre-register your interest online. Once you’ve successfully registered, you’ll receive an SMS with a booking code and link to book your vaccination appointment.

After 30 days, if you don’t do anything, your priority slot will be given up to others. To make a vaccination appointment again, you need to re-register your interest by tapping on the same booking link in the SMS.

The COVID-19 vaccine comes in 2 doses, to be administered 3 to 4 weeks apart. On both vaccination days, wear short sleeves (or sleeves that can be rolled up) and bring your IC. If unwell, you should stay home and postpone the appointment via the SMS booking link.

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