SINGAPORE - The validity of one's fully vaccinated status will expire nine months after the last dose of their primary vaccination series, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Wednesday (Jan 5).
The updated policy, which will take effect on Feb 14, comes as Singapore has seen a growing number of confirmed Omicron cases, with 1,281 such cases in the past week.
Of these, 233 are local cases, which make up 18 % of the local cases in the last week, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Wednesday.
The Omicron variant has shown itself to be more transmissible than Delta, and Singapore has to brace itself for a bigger infection wave than was seen with the Delta variant last October, said Mr Ong.
At its peak late last year, the Delta variant saw Singapore register about 5,000 cases a day. Omicron cases could exceed this number "by a few times", he said.
"At its peak, Delta infections were doubling at six to eight days. Omicron infections may double in two to three days," said Mr Ong.
Director of medical services Kenneth Mak said a worst case scenario may see Singapore recording as many as 15,000 cases a day at the peak of the Omicron wave, as he urged people to take their booster jabs when offered.
One silver lining is that data out of various countries such as South Africa, the US and Canada has consistently shown that Omicron infections are less severe than Delta cases amongst the vaccinated, and more so amongst those who have received their boosters, said Mr Ong.
This is why from Feb 14, the fully vaccinated status for a person who only has had their primary series of vaccination will lapse nine months after their last jab.
Mr Ong said: "270 days or nine months after you have taken your second dose of the mRNA (vaccine) or third dose of the Sinovac or Sinopharm vaccine and you have not taken your booster, your full vaccination status will lapse.
"This will, among other things, affect your access to vaccination-differentiated venues such as malls, restaurants and libraries."
People here will be invited to take their booster jab five months after their second mRNA jab, or after their third dose of the Sinopharm or Sinovac vaccine.
Unlike the primary regime, there is no need to factor two weeks for the booster dose to take effect.
"On Feb 14, if your last vaccine dose was taken before 20th May 2021, which is 270 days or nine months ago, your fully vaccinated status will lapse," said Mr Ong.
Those who have not yet reached the nine-month expiry by then, or who are medically ineligible for boosters will not be affected.
He added that the effective date of the policy has been set "quite awhile from now" to give people the chance to take their booster jabs early.
Invitations for boosters have been sent out five months after one has completed their primary vaccination series to facilitate bookings for appointments in the coming weeks, said Mr Ong.
Invitations to seniors aged 60 and above to take their booster dose will be sent out a bit earlier as well, he added.
Giving figures on the booster vaccination take-up rate, Singapore's director of medical services Kenneth Mak, said that among those aged above 30 who are eligible for their boosters, nearly 70 % have received their jabs.
The figure was at 89 % for eligible seniors aged above 60, he added.
" We urge as many people as possible who are eligible to come forward and receive their booster vaccinations as soon as possible...(as) this is important to mitigate the risk of waning antibody levels that can occur over time and to boost the vaccine-derived protection against severe infection, reducing the risk of being infected by Delta or Omicron variants," said Associate Professor Mak.
He added that Singapore is still seeing Delta infections, and not just Omicron, therefore getting vaccinated and boosted can protect against both variants.
"There's no good reason to think that you may skip the booster vaccination simply because you think that Omicron infections are potentially less serious," he added.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.