Singapore hopes to extend the COVID-19 national vaccination programme to children below the age of 12 in January next year, the health ministry said on Saturday. Director of medical services at the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) Kenneth Mak, speaking at a multi-ministry task force press conference here, said that children below the age of 12 made up about 11.2 per cent of all COVID-19 cases.
Four weeks ago, it was 6.7 per cent, he said, noting that Singapore is seeing a rising slow trend for cases in this age group. The proportion of cases of those between 12 and 20 years has not changed in the same way, Mak said, adding that it continues to hover between 4 and 5 per cent.
These children remain vulnerable because they are not yet eligible for vaccination to protect them from infection. And it’s generally harder to get them to comply with disciplined mask-wearing and safe separation and measures, Channel News Asia quoted Mak as saying. Many of these children have mild infections, but Singapore has seen a small number of children who need paediatric Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for more severe infections or complications from the infection.
There were also a few cases of multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) reported to the MOH, he said. Earlier, four such cases had emerged among the more than 8,000 paediatric COVID-19 cases in Singapore since the start of the pandemic.
All four children were admitted to hospital between October and November, and these cases are considered rare, the ministry had said. Health authorities are working with the expert committee on COVID-19 vaccines to extend the national vaccination programme to cover children aged between five and 11 to reduce their risk of getting infected, said Mak.
The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) will also work with Pfizer on the necessary regulatory approvals, he said. We remain hopeful that we may be able to launch the extended national vaccination programme following these approvals for children less than 12 years of age, hopefully sometime in January 2022, he said.
Separately, the MOH said that eligible individuals will be able to receive their COVID-19 booster jabs five months after completing their second dose, instead of six months. “It is evident that waning of antibodies can clearly occur by around six months after the second dose and occur earlier for older groups,” the ministry said.
The expert committee on COVID-19 vaccination therefore recommends that the interval for booster jabs be standardised to five months for all eligible age groups. “This would be an appropriate interval to pre-empt waning of antibodies for all,” it said, adding that the change will take effect on November 24.
Currently, the Health Ministry is administering booster shots six months after the second dose for people aged 30 to 59, and five months for those aged 60 and above. Singapore reported 1,734 cases on Friday, down from 2,038 on Thursday.
There were 16 people aged between 52 and 93 who died of complications linked to COVID-19, the MOH said. All of them, except for an unvaccinated case, had various underlying medical conditions, it said.
The latest deaths take the total number of fatalities in Singapore to 641. The new infections on Friday comprised 1,633 cases in the community, 97 in migrant worker dormitories and four that were imported.
The total number of cases in Singapore now stands at 248,587. There are 1,346 patients in hospital and 202 require oxygen supplementation in general hospital wards while 46 are unstable and being closely monitored.
There are also 64 who are critically ill and intubated in the ICU, which means they need ventilators to help them breathe.