Singapore began vaccinating healthcare workers with Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, kicking off one of Asia’s first inoculation programs against a pandemic that has killed more than 1.7 million people globally.
Sarah Lim, a 46-year-old nurse, and 43-year-old infectious diseases doctor Kalisvar Marimuthu were among the more than 30 staff at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases who were vaccinated on Wednesday, the health ministry said.
They will return for the second dose of the vaccine on January 20.
“Vaccines have managed to bring pandemics down to their knees before. So I am hopeful that this vaccine will do the same,” Marimuthu said in recorded remarks provided by the health ministry.
Singapore is the first country in Asia to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. It has also signed advance purchase agreements and made early down payments on several other vaccine candidates, including those being developed by Moderna and Sinovac.
It expects to have enough vaccine doses for all 5.7 million people by the third quarter of 2021.
Singapore acted swiftly after the first cases of the virus were reported, and although it was blindsided by tens of thousands of infections in migrant workers’ dormitories, it has reported just a handful of new local cases in recent months. The country has one of the world’s lowest COVID-19 fatality rates; only 29 people have died of the virus.
To show the vaccine is safe, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 68, said he and his colleagues would be among the early recipients of the shots. They will be free and voluntary, but the government is encouraging all medically eligible residents to take them.
Wednesday’s vaccinations mark “a new chapter in our fight against the pandemic,” Lee said in a Facebook post. “The vaccine is key to living in a COVID-19 world, but it will still be some time before this storm will pass.”
China is inoculating specific groups of people considered at high risk of infection, such as medical workers and border inspectors, under an emergency use program started in July. Its vaccines are still in late-stage clinical trials.
In Japan and South Korea, the US military has begun its first wave of COVID-19 vaccinations, prioritizing frontline medical workers.
Some Philippine soldiers and cabinet ministers have already received COVID-19 vaccine injections even before regulatory approval.