COVID-19 vaccine stirs rare hesitation in nearly virus-free Singapore

By Chen Lin and Aradhana Aravindan
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - As Singapore prepares to roll out COVID-19 vaccinations, its remarkable success in fighting the virus begs the question of whether to take the bumps.
In a city-state where regulatory compliance is generally high, some Singaporeans fear that potential side effects - even if minimal - are not worth the risk when daily cases are near zero and deaths are among the lowest of the range Belong to the world.
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"Singapore is doing pretty well," said Aishwarya Kris, who is in her forties and doesn't want a shot.
"I doubt the vaccine will help at all."
A survey by local newspaper The Straits Times in early December found that 48% of respondents said they would receive a vaccine as soon as it became available and 34% said they would wait six to 12 months.
However, the government is keen to use the vaccine to open up more of the economy in a country dependent on travel and trade, and in preparation to host the annual World Economic Forum meeting next year.
"Singapore is a victim of its own success," said Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease expert at the city's Mount Elizabeth Hospital.
To show that the vaccine is safe, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 68, said he and his colleagues would be among the first to receive the gunshots. They are free, voluntary, and given to healthcare workers and the elderly first.
The first shipment of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine arrived this week, and Singapore expects to have enough vaccines for every 5.7 million people by the third quarter of 2021.
The first vaccines will be given to priority groups like health workers over the next month or two, but it will be some time before they are offered to the wider population, said Lawrence Wong, a minister who co-chairs the Singapore virus task force.
"The rollout for the people of Singapore will also take place over several months, depending on factors like vaccine delivery and delivery schedules," he said.
Many Singaporeans said they were ready to take the shots - not just to fend off infection, but in the hopes that they could travel again. For others it is a civic duty.
"I'm the one in the family who goes to work every day, so it's the responsible thing," said Jeff Tan, a 39-year-old photographer.
Singapore acted swiftly after the first cases of the virus were reported, and despite being blinded by tens of thousands of cases in dormitories for migrant workers, it immediately reduced infections again.
According to Hsu Li Yang of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore, Singaporeans generally accept vaccines with nearly a 90% large shock absorption in childhood.
However, there is concern about a new vaccine that uses novel technologies and has seen rapid development and approval. Typically, vaccine adoption takes time, he said.
Even three nurses told Reuters, on condition of anonymity, that they would prefer not to take the vaccine.
The Singapore Medicines Agency announced that it granted approval after evaluating the data submitted by Pfizer-BioNTech to demonstrate that the vaccine meets required safety, efficacy and quality standards, and that the benefits outweigh any known risks.
Pfizer's vaccine has been linked to some cases of severe allergic reactions since it was launched in the UK and US. However, no serious long-term side effects were found in clinical studies.
John Han, a sales manager, said he would wait for 80% of the population to take the vaccine with no side effects.
"If a choice is made, I may not be able to make it. I don't mind putting on the mask, being safe and avoiding crowded places," said Han, 40.
(Reporting by Chen Lin and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Editing by Michael Perry)

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