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More S'poreans may have to be vaccinated as more contagious Covid-19 strains detected: Public health school dean

SINGAPORE – With the discovery of new, more contagious strains of the Covid-19 virus in Britain and South Africa, it may now be important for more Singaporeans to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, said a health expert here.

Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore, said on Thursday (Dec 24): “This is the only way we can continue to ensure that the community as a whole is protected.”

This means that instead of aiming to get 80 per cent of the population here to be vaccinated against Covid-19, “we may be now looking at 90 per cent or even higher”, said Prof Teo, who was speaking in a video interview with The Straits Times on its daily online talk show The Big Story.

The Health Ministry’s chief health scientist Professor Tan Chorh Chuan previously told ST that at least 80 per cent of Singapore’s population would have to be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity against Covid-19.

The new B117 strain of Covid-19 circulating in Britain has been reported to be more contagious, but has not shown signs of being more lethal or severe.

Singapore recorded its first case of this strain on Wednesday – a 17-year-old Singaporean girl who had returned home from Britain.

Prof Teo said on Thursday that current research indicates that new strains will not affect the effectiveness of vaccines, though a better understanding of the new strains is needed before determining the likely impact and making appropriate policy decisions.

“Governments are concerned (about the new strains) because of the impact that they have in managing the spread of Covid-19 in the community, and also any potential impact on vaccine effectiveness and quality control measures,” said Prof Teo.

“But for individuals like you and me, as long as we continue to diligently practise the necessary safe management measures, there is no need to be overly concerned with this new mutations,” he added, referring to the new strains.

Present research also indicates that the new strains are transmitted between people in the same way as the older strains, though it is more contagious, as an infected person with the new variant may have a higher viral load in his upper respiratory tract, said Prof Teo.

This is why existing measures like wearing a mask properly and maintaining the necessary social distance, if followed, can still minimise the chance of an infected person passing on the virus to someone who is healthy, he said.

Prof Teo also advised that during the year-end festive period, Singaporeans should continue to follow safe distancing rules and measures to keep themselves, as well as their family and friends, safe from the coronavirus.

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