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Singapore to start COVID vaccines for seniors next week

Administered doses stand at 60,000 as program enters new phase

A health worker gets vaccinated in Singapore on Jan. 19: The city-state will start COVID-19 inoculations for seniors on Jan. 27.   © Reuters

SINGAPORE -- The Singaporean government will start coronavirus vaccinations for senior residents next Wednesday, as the country steps up its vaccine rollout to accelerate its economic recovery. 

The city-state was one of the first in Asia to kick off vaccinations. This makes its progress a focal point as neighbors look to accelerate -- or in some cases simply begin -- their own programs.

According to an announcement on Friday, the vaccinations for seniors will start with a pilot program in limited areas, before being expanded nationwide in mid-February.

Singapore approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in late December and started inoculating health care workers before the turn of the year. It hopes to have all adults vaccinated by this September.

The government noted in a news conference on Friday that it is reviewing other coronavirus vaccines as well. A Health Ministry official said an interim approval decision is expected on one candidate soon.

As of Friday, 60,000 people -- over 1% of the city-state's population of 5.7 million, including children -- had received their first doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Two shots are needed to achieve the estimated 95% immunity, with an interval of 21 days between them.

Vaccinations are not mandatory in Singapore but the government strongly encourages people to take the shots. 

To facilitate vaccinations for the elderly, the government will send personalized letters to all eligible residents, inviting them to make an appointment either online or in person at community centers.

In addition, the government says community volunteers as well as "Silver Generation Ambassadors" will be conducting house visits and using grassroots events to answer questions and help older residents schedule their shots.

The vaccinations themselves will be conducted at special centers the government is setting up across the country, as well as at selected clinics.

Singapore reported 15 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, 14 of them imported. Wary of any increase in cases, the authorities also said that from next Tuesday they will limit the number of visitors households can receive to eight people per day, versus the current rule of eight at a time. The subtle change comes just ahead of the Chinese New Year period.

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