Celest Ng, an 18-year-old pharmaceutical science student from Temasek Polytechnic, is among the first 250,000 residents in Singapore to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. She’s able to get the jab in early February as she will be reporting for her internship at a hospital in the next semester. 

When she first received the notice, she was a little worried. “I felt pretty uncertain because it’s still a new vaccine after all.”

She also had a little guilt complex for being the first in her family to get vaccinated. “Since I’m the youngest and I’m getting [the jab] faster than the rest of my family, I guess there’s a bit of guilt, but in a way I’m also helping to protect them so either way, it’s good.”

Hoe Hui Min, 19, on the other hand, says she’s glad to have received the jab early so that she wouldn’t have to join the queue when the vaccine is made available to the wider public. 

The nursing student from Ngee Ann Polytechnic had to complete clinical attachments in the hospital, which made her eligible for the vaccine although she didn’t have to come into direct contact with high-risk groups. 

For those who have concerns about the vaccination, Hui Min said the procedure was fairly quick and straightforward. After signing a health declaration form, a nurse explained to her about the possible side effects before administering the first dose. 

“The actual injection was quick and less painful than an ant bite for me,” says Hui Min. She was then handed a vaccination card with records of her first dose, and was asked to bring it along when returning for her second jab. Next, she sat in an observation room to be monitored for side effects, and was allowed to leave 30 minutes later. 

Both Celest and Hui Min experienced some soreness on their arms and slight fatigue after getting the jab. These are common side effects according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States.

Hui Min adds that her arm was stiff and “felt like lead for one to two days”. She says some of the other nurses in her ward had slight fever and headache after the jab, but they got better after taking painkillers and resting.

Vaccine Hesitancy

On Dec 21 2020, Singapore received its first batch of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, which has been reviewed and endorsed for its high efficacy rate of 95 per cent. Its safety profile was found to be consistent with other established and registered vaccines. 

Infographic by the government to educate the public on Covid-19 vaccines.
Infographic Credit: Temasek Holdings

However, a significant number of residents are still hesitant to get vaccinated, going by the findings from a Nanyang Technological University survey in Dec 2020. Out of the 999 respondents, 55 per cent of them said they’re willing to get vaccinated, 11 per cent said they don’t want to get vaccinated while the remaining 34 per cent were undecided.

The vaccine hesitancy could be attributed to the spread of misinformation. There have been false claims that the vaccine contains tracking microchips or the vaccine can alter our DNA.

Some celebrities such as Black Panther actress Letitia Wright have also amplified the false narratives by sharing a vaccine doubter’s video on her social media. Similarly, prominent anti-vaxxer Robert F Kennedy JR’s profile was removed from Instagram after he repeatedly shared debunked claims about Covid-19 and the safety of vaccines.

In Singapore, the number of Covid-19 community cases remains low. This could be another reason why some residents would rather wait and see as they “may have the misperception that [Singapore is] safe”, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong in an interview.

To encourage residents to take the vaccine, the Ministry of Health has announced plans to introduce a vaccine injury financial assistance programme for Covid-19 vaccination (VIFAP)

The programme aims to provide financial assistance for affected individuals in the rare event that they encounter serious side effects that are assessed to be related to Covid-19 vaccines administered in Singapore.

Hui Min hopes that more residents will be able to overcome vaccine hesitancy. 

“Even though the vaccine may or may not be effective towards current or future mutations of the virus, it still is developed based on the original strain, and that would already provide more protection than not getting the vaccine at all,” she says. 

Shermaine Tay, a 20-year-old volunteer under the Covid-19 Migrant Support Coalition group, who also had priority access to the vaccine due to her frequent interaction with migrant workers, also feels the same.

“Fundamentally, it’s not just about looking out for your own health but also for the people around you and the well-being of our society,” she adds. 

Edited by: Rachel Sin Ka Lam
Proofread by: Quek Si Min