Some health experts in Singapore are calling for mandatory vaccination against COVID-19 with a growing toll of severe cases among unvaccinated people as infections surge and with the vaccination rate plateauing at 82 percent.
The government has linked reopening to vaccination targets, but it paused the easing of restrictions this month to watch for signs that severe infections could overwhelm the healthcare system.
“I would love to see vaccine mandates for the over-60s — they are the group most likely to die,” said Dale Fisher, an infectious disease expert at National University Hospital in Singapore.
“It’s the same reason that the age group was selected early for vaccines — the same reason that the age group has been selected for booster jabs,” Fisher said.
Singapore has been a model for virus mitigation since the COVID-19 pandemic began with mandatory masks, effective contact tracing and a closed border.
In all, 62 people out of its population of 5.7 million people have died and new daily infections were for months no more than a handful.
However, as in other nations throughout Southeast Asia, the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 has in the past few months been spreading and new daily cases have risen to about 1,000.
Of vaccinated people in Singapore who caught the virus from May 1 to Thursday last week, only 0.09 percent of them had to go into intensive care units (ICU) or died. The rate for the unvaccinated was 1.7 percent.
Data for elderly people is particularly striking. Of infected unvaccinated people aged 80 or older, 15 percent of them had to be treated in ICUs or died. Only 1.79 percent of the vaccinated in that age group needed intensive care or died.
Singapore has not made vaccination compulsory because the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines only have emergency approval in the country.
The city-state has restricted activities, such as eating out for the unvaccinated.
Neither BioNTech or Moderna responded to a query on whether it had applied for full approval in Singapore.
With about 87,000 older people still unvaccinated, some experts say that full approval could pave the way for a mandate.
“Vaccination is much more protective than the other measures we have in place, and less economically and socially damaging,” said Alex Cook, an infectious disease modeling expert at the National University of Singapore.
“If we are not to enforce vaccination, it seems odd to enforce weaker and more costly measures,” Cook said.
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