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Coronavirus

Singapore starts Pfizer COVID vaccinations with health workers

46-year-old nurse becomes first in city-state to receive shot

Health care worker Sarah Lim receives Singapore's first COVID-19 vaccine at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases on Dec. 30.   © Singapore's Ministry of Communications and Information via Reuters

SINGAPORE (Reuters) -- A 46-year-old nurse became the first person in Singapore to receive Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, making the city-state among the first Asian countries to begin an inoculation campaign against the coronavirus.

Sarah Lim, a senior staff nurse at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, was the first of more than 30 staff at the centre who are being vaccinated on Wednesday, the health ministry said. They will return for the second dose of the vaccine on Jan. 20.

"I feel very grateful and thankful for being the first to be vaccinated in Singapore," said Lim, who helps screen suspected COVID-19 cases. In recorded remarks provided by the health ministry, she said she hoped to encourage others to get vaccinated.

Singapore is the first country in Asia to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. It has also signed advance purchase agreements and made early down payments on several other vaccine candidates, including those being developed by Moderna and Sinovac.

It expects to have enough vaccine doses for all 5.7 million people by the third quarter of 2021.

Singapore acted swiftly after the first cases of the virus were reported and although it was blindsided by tens of thousands of cases in migrant workers dormitories, it has reported just a handful of new cases over the last two months. The country has one of the world's lowest COVID-19 fatality rates; only 29 people have died of the virus.

To show the vaccine is safe, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 68, said he and his colleagues would be among the early recipients of the shots. They will be free and voluntary, but the government is encouraging all medically eligible residents to take them.

China is inoculating specific groups of people considered at high risk of infection, such as medical workers and border inspectors, under an emergency use programme started in July. Its vaccines are still in late-stage clinical trials.

In Japan and South Korea, the U.S military has begun its first wave of COVID-19 vaccinations, prioritising frontline medical workers.

Some Philippine soldiers and cabinet ministers have already received COVID-19 vaccine injections even before regulatory approval.

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