Voluntary mass flu jabs planned in public sector, Health News & Top Stories

A voluntary flu vaccination drive is being planned for 44 public agencies to ensure that as many employees as possible are protected ahead of the end-of-year flu season.

Because influenza and Covid-19 symptoms can be similar, the flu vaccinations aim to reduce the number of people subject to Covid-19 regulations including measures such as isolation and hospitalisation, the Public Service Division (PSD) told The Straits Times.

The Government on July 28 called for a tender for the provision of the Northern Hemisphere Flu Vaccine 2020/2021 for the staff of all ministries, organs of state and statutory boards. This vaccine protects against the viral strains based on World Health Organisation recommendations.

So far, 44 agencies with a staff strength of about 44,000 have indicated their interest. The actual number taking part in the programme is not yet certain.

The expected take-up rate for the vaccine is between 5 per cent and 30 per cent – which is about 14,200 staff, according to the tender documents.

The programme is tentatively scheduled to run from October this year to March next year, according to the documents seen by ST.

PSD said that while the flu vaccination is voluntary, it encouraged all public officers to take it. “A high uptake of flu vaccination can help to reduce healthcare visits and hospital admission due to flu, and mitigate the widespread transmission and formation of flu clusters.”

It is not clear yet if staff will have to pay for the flu jabs. The vaccines will be administered at the chosen contractor’s locations or on-site at the various public agencies.

PSD said all staff were also encouraged to do so last year.

This is the first time the PSD has called for such a contract, to better facilitate the procurement process for the provision and administration of the flu vaccines.

Dr Edwin Chng, medical director of Parkway Shenton which is involved in Covid-19 testing here, said the move may help by reducing the strain on the healthcare system.

Dr Chng told ST: “Flu symptoms mimic that of Covid-19 and are not easily distinguishable. Hence anyone with flu symptoms needs to be screened for Covid-19 and isolated while awaiting swab results.

“This puts a strain on our testing resources and healthcare facilities, including clinics and hospitals. Flu vaccination helps to reduce the number of such patients and allows preservation of resources to be focused on actual Covid-19 cases.”

He added that Singapore’s recent moves to open borders further may result in an increase in both flu and Covid-19 infections.

“Now that we have achieved a reasonable rate of Covid-19 vaccination, it makes sense to also focus on flu vaccination next,” he said.

Last October, ST reported that demand for flu vaccines had spiked, as doctors and infectious diseases experts encouraged people to get the flu vaccine so as to guard against a possible “twin-demic” of Covid-19 and flu during the year-end flu season.

The average number of patients seeking treatment for acute respiratory infection at polyclinics each day was 1,038 from Sept 27 to Oct 3 last year – compared with 2,619 cases in the same period in 2019.

This was likely a result of mandatory mask wearing, safe distancing and better personal hygiene coupled with less travelling that year, doctors told ST then.

This year the numbers are up slightly, while still remaining relatively low. From April 18 to Aug 14, the average daily number was 1,097 compared with 723 last year over the equivalent period. In 2019 the number was 2,894.

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