vaccine - Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

The Methodist Church in Singapore released a statement to encourage its members and their families to get vaccinated against COVID-19 when offered the opportunity. Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels.

“The COVID-19 vaccines that have been licensed for emergency application in Singapore have been developed at record-breaking speed but were nonetheless evaluated using the most stringent standards,” Prof Ooi Eng Eong of the Duke-NUS Medical School, and the co-developer of a Covid-19 vaccine candidate, told Salt&Light yesterday.

“All clinical trial and real-world data show that these vaccines are safe and effective in preventing COVID-19.”

“By getting vaccinated, you are protecting … your family and your community.”

Prof Ooi was responding to a statement released by The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS) this week (March 23) encouraging all its members and their families to get vaccinated against COVID-19 when offered the opportunity.

The statement by the Bishop of The Methodist Church, Rev Dr Gordon Wong, was released to all 46 local Methodist churches across the three Conferences: Chinese Annual Conference, Emmanuel Tamil Annual Conference and Trinity Annual Conference.

“We love God by loving our neighbours. Let’s urge each other to play our part in protecting each other,” wrote Rev Dr Wong.

“Help those who may have difficulty in registering for an appointment to do so. Offer to accompany any who may need assistance and transport. Encourage those who fear the pain and discomfort of temporary aches and pains,” he suggested.

Is vaccination safe?

The Ministry of Health has assured that all COVID-19 vaccines used in Singapore comply with World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines and have been assessed by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) for safety and efficacy.

“All clinical trial and real-world data show that these vaccines are safe and effective in preventing COVID-19.”

As with any vaccination, side effects of the COVID-19 vaccination may include fever, redness and swelling at the injection site. These are natural responses of the body to vaccination, says the Ministry of Health.

As for concerns that the elderly may experience more serious side effects, Prof Marcus Ong, Senior Consultant and Clinician Scientist with the Singapore General Hospital’s Department of Emergency Medicine, assured: “More than 100 million in the world have been vaccinated. The senior group reported fewer side effects and milder reactions compared to young people who have more active immune responses.”  

Helping to set the COVID-19 vaccination in historical context, Bishop Wong reminded Methodists how national vaccination programmes against measles, whooping cough and tuberculosis have eradicated these once-dreaded diseases from the local population.

Similar international vaccinations have also made infectious diseases like smallpox and polio a thing of the past.

Hesitancy and resistance

Prof Ong told Salt&Light he believes that the strong encouragement is necessary.

“Vaccine hesitancy is an even greater issue than we thought,” said Prof Ong.  

He has been involved in surveys and engagement research with regard to Singapore’s vaccination programme. In one study of 30,000 people, he found that only 40% would get vaccinated the next day if they could. The rest would not; 20% were resistant, 40% wanted to wait.

“Vaccine hesitancy is an even greater issue than we thought,” said Prof Ong.  

Bishop Wong’s statement addressed those within the Church who had read opinions doubting the vaccinations, or “doomsday warnings”, against the vaccinations as well as those concerned about side effects that might emerge in the longer term.

“We must weigh such concerns against the endorsement and approval of these vaccines given by our Ministry of Health,” urged the MCS statement.

“The Bible teaches us to weigh contrasting opinions wisely (Proverbs 18:17), and so we must consider the testimony of our doctors who are well-trained to examine and assess the scientific, medical facts against the contrasting opinions.”

For the sake of neighbour and nation

To those who are averse to injections and “reckon that Singapore is safe enough even without a vaccine”, Bishop Wong said: “I hope that you will ‘sacrifice’ your own concerns and submit to the VacciNation programme for the sake of your neighbour and fellow Singaporeans.

“This is one way in which we demonstrate love for God by loving neighbour and nation.”

“If a large proportion of the population is vaccinated, you can break the chain of infection.”

Prof Ong, who is also Senior Consultant of the Ministry of Health’s Hospital Services Division, explained that this is the effect of “herd immunity”.

He said the vaccine works in two ways: 1) It affords the individual protection against the virus. This protection can come in the form of immunity, which up to 90% of those vaccinated are likely to enjoy. 2) Protection also means that, even if a person picks up an infection, the symptoms would be largely muted.

“In clinical trials done, almost 100% of the people vaccinated did not get severe symptoms. This means a marked reduction in death, hospitalisation and ICU stays,” said Prof Ong.

Vaccination also protects the population.

“If a large proportion of the population is vaccinated, you can break the chain of infection. Even if there is a local transmission, there is a protective barrier.

“There will always be vulnerable people who are not vaccinated. By getting vaccinated, you are protecting those who are weak and vulnerable. You are protecting your family and your community.”

“We pray for the day we can together sing God’s praises with gusto.”

As new variants of the virus appear, there may be a need for new vaccinations.

Said Prof Ong: “You may need to think of the COVID-19 vaccine less like a chicken pox or measles vaccine and more like a flu vaccine which you take every six months.

“But it does not detract from the fact that vaccination is still the best and most effective prevention we have right now.”

Since Singapore began its vaccination exercise on December 30 last year, over 770,000 individuals have received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and more than 300,000 have been administered a second dose, as at March 22.

Said Bishop Wong: “The more quickly we can achieve 80%-90% of the population vaccinated, the sooner we may be able to return to face-to-face fellowship over coffee rather than the current fleeting in-and-out-without-lingering experience.

“We pray for the day we can together sing God’s praises with gusto.”

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About the author

Christine Leow

Christine believes there is always a story waiting to be told, which led to a career in MediaCorp News. Her idea of a perfect day involves a big mug of tea, a bigger muffin and a good book.

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