Budget 2022: Review COVID Vaccination-Differentiated Policies

This speech was part of the Budget 2022 Committee of Supply Debate, and delivered on 8 March 2022.

Since the end of last year, many countries around the world have removed most, if not all of the Covid differentiation measures.

With the infection cases and deaths from Covid still at a high level, we are not against postponing the slew of easing Covid measures announced by Minister Ong Ye Kung on 16th February.  However, we hope the Minister will not forget what he said at that virtual media conference that “these (Covid) rules accumulated over the past two years have become quite unwieldy.” 

Indeed, we need to review and streamline many of these rules.  The most unwieldy of these must surely be the Vaccination Differentiated Safe Management Measures (VDS), introduced incrementally from July 2021, when we switched to the “Living with Covid” strategy.  This has brought significant misery to a number of Singaporeans who have valid personal reasons not to vaccinate.   

Unfortunately, up till today, many of these VDS measures are still enforced, never mind that other rules have been relaxed with the arrival of the dominant but much less virulent Omicron strain. 

The vaccines reduce the severity of Covid-19 infection but they have generally fallen short in their touted efficacy.  Vaccination was not the universal panacea we imagined, and had little impact in reducing both infection rate and spread of the virus, especially with the current Omicron variant.

As we move toward normalcy in 2022, we urge the Government to relax all its discrimination policies based on vaccination status.  The relevance and justification for VDS measures have dwindled and I believe the general public does not view this as being favorable nor fair. 

Singaporeans who are unvaccinated are genuinely concerned about their health and each has valid concerns about the vaccine.  Their movements continue to be restrained and some had to give up their right to employment due to such restrictions.

Now parents too have to contend with stress over vaccination for their children and there is a growing number of vaccinated Singaporeans agonizing over the issue of booster shots.

The latest vaccine safety update by HSA on 23 Feb reported 10 cases of children aged 5 to 11 with serious side effects following vaccination, and 280 cases of non-serious side effects.  This is of particular concern and warrants closer scrutiny. One case of severe reaction compromising a child’s health going forward, is one case too many, given the fact that children are largely spared from any adverse health challenges from Covid infection.

It is time for the Government to show its magnanimity to this small group of unvaccinated people by relaxing the VDS measures, and not continue to “punish” them for making rational personal choices.  They are not “trouble-makers” as the Government seems to make them out to be.

With the continuous surge in Omicron infections despite with all the VDS measures in place, indicates that the VDS measures are not critical in the fight against the virus.  Hence, VDS should be relaxed immediately.

Instead, the Government should focus its resources on approving more therapeutics for GPs to treat patients to deal with the surge in infections.  We are especially concerned about the senior citizens.  In the last two years, we have established that age is the most important determinant in risk factors leading to death.

Hence management of the senior Covid patient can be more targeted.  Shouldn’t approved therapeutics like Molnupiravir or Paxlovid be made available to senior patients early through GPs before they turn seriously ill and need hospitalization?

We see hope in Omicron being a game-changer.  Let us review and refine our measures in our fight against Covid-19, and emerge as a people that is more compassionate and united than ever.

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