Singapore officials on Monday sought to assuage parents’ concerns about children aged 5 to 11 years getting Covid-19 vaccines , by highlighting the absence of serious adverse events since the exercise began two weeks ago. A high child vaccination rate could prove crucial as the country gears up to face a new wave of infections linked to the more transmissible Omicron variant, officials told lawmakers in parliament. Singapore’s Covid-19 situation has stabilised following a surge of cases in the second half of last year fuelled by the Delta variant. Singapore in talks with US after CDC description of Covid situation baffles experts With 87 per cent of Singapore’s 5.45 million population now fully vaccinated against Covid-19, the inoculation of children aged five to 11 is the latest stage of the country’s pacesetting vaccine roll-out. Local authorities have thus far only approved the Pfizer-BioNTech “Cominarty” vaccine – which uses messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) technology – for children, and like in the US, children will only receive a third of the dosage given to adults. Health Minister Ong Ye Kung acknowledged that some parents were hesitant about the side effects of mRNA vaccines but stressed that the current option was the best available, given that extensive clinical trials showed such vaccines were safe and effective. “In the meantime, Omicron is upon us. [It is] highly transmissible and we do not want to rule out that even a small percentage of children can get very sick. We might be looking at a significant absolute number,” Ong said. Scientist defends discovery of new ‘Deltacron’ Covid-19 variant While the mRNA vaccine being used for children was not perfect, “given the circumstances, costs and benefits, I think the right thing to do now is to get your child vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Ong said. Janil Puthucheary, senior minister of state for health, said that while fewer children had fallen critically ill with Covid-19 compared to adults, there was still a risk of them developing severe complications. There have been “several” such cases, where children required intensive care. “This is why it’s important for children … to take up the Covid-19 vaccination,” he told the legislature during its first meeting of the year. “Vaccination will allow children to be protected against the disease and reduce the likelihood of infecting others including the vulnerable and other elderly family members.” Race to protect children Countries in Europe, including France, Germany and Spain, have rushed to inoculate young children amid a surge of Omicron infections. In Asia, Hong Kong earlier authorised the use of China’s Sinovac vaccine for children aged above three and Japan has plans to kick off its vaccination drive for those aged five to 11 next month. As of January 7, some 123,000 children in Singapore aged five to 11 have received at least one vaccine dose or have booked vaccination appointments, said Puthucheary. Inoculations for this age group began on December 27. Puthucheary said the health ministry had not received any reports of serious adverse incidents or myocarditis (heart inflammation) – which parents are most concerned about – since the roll-out, with children experiencing only “very mild” side effects that typically went away within a few days. Education minister Chan Chun Sing said there were no plans to make vaccination mandatory for students to attend preschool or primary school but a “high” vaccination rate would mean the resumption of more school activities, he said. Ong, the health minister, stressed that vaccination and booster shots remained the country’s key approach to tackling an imminent Omicron wave, which could see up to 15,000 infections each day. At the peak of the Delta wave, Singapore reported about 3,000 daily cases. The city state has detected 4,322 Omicron infections so far – most of them imported – but this figure is expected to rise steeply. Ong said Omicron would become the dominant variant “within a few weeks”. To deal with a looming Omicron wave, the government has made preparations to ramp up health care capacity, including the number of hospital and intensive care unit beds. Ong said it would not be possible to remove all restrictions, including the existing five-person limit on social gatherings, as infections would rise uncontrollably and the health care system would suffer. At the same time, the government would not lock down its borders as it would cause “tremendous suffering” to citizens. Transport Minister S. Iswaran told lawmakers at the same meeting that the country’s goal was to restore quarantine-free travel with more countries and regions “as allowed for by the public health assessment”. Passenger traffic will improve this year at Changi Airport after reaching about 15 per cent of pre-pandemic levels at the end of last year from three per cent a year ago, Iswaran said, adding that he expected a full recovery to take several years. “We remain confident of the long-term potential of air travel and are resolutely committed to working with Changi Airport Group and airline partners to rebuild and reclaim Singapore’s status as an international air hub.” Booster campaign gathering pace Apart from having 87 per cent of the population fully vaccinated, the republic’s ongoing roll-out of boosters is also gathering pace – with some 46 per cent having received their third shot. Prevailing data suggests that the small proportion of unvaccinated individuals are most prone to falling severely ill from the virus. Ong pointed to how among the country’s 802 Covid-19 deaths last year, 555 or close to 70 per cent of them were either unvaccinated or had only received one jab. Stressing that the sample size was small and did not take into account factors such as age, he said of the remaining 247 who had gotten two shots, most had taken China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines. China’s top Covid-19 expert urges stronger defence against variants Singapore authorities had earlier announced that they would only classify individuals as “fully vaccinated” if they received their booster jabs starting mid-February. Those who fail to receive their third shots nine months after their second dose could see their access to shopping malls and other venues restricted. Ong said it was “too early to tell” if further booster shots were needed but that this remained a possibility. Already, Israel has authorised a fourth dose for non-immunocompromised individuals. He drew parallels to endemic infectious diseases like influenza, and how people receive regular vaccinations to protect themselves without the need for disruptive border closures or strict social restrictions. A new normal of regular Covid-19 vaccinations was a “possible future scenario” when the coronavirus is treated as an endemic disease, Ong said.