The benefits of receiving an mRNA coronavirus vaccine continue to outweigh the risks of getting inoculated, the Singapore government's expert committee on COVID-19 vaccination said in response to an open letter by a group of doctors, according to a media report.
Earlier this month, the committee had highlighted the possibility that the second dose of mRNA vaccines may be associated with a small risk of myocarditis and pericarditis in young men, Channel News Asia reported on Monday.
Myocarditis and pericarditis are inflammatory conditions that affect the heart muscles and the outer lining of the heart respectively.
“The assessment after our review is that the benefits of receiving the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines continue to outweigh the risks of vaccination,” said the committee. “Data on myocarditis and pericarditis has not changed since, and the Expert Committee’s assessment remains the same.”
The committee’s comments on Sunday were in response to an open letter circulating on social media that was attributed to a group of doctors, including one cardiologist, calling for a halt in COVID-19 vaccinations of Singapore’s youth, following reports of the US Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention’s investigations into the death of a 13-year-old boy after being vaccinated with the second dose of an mRNA vaccine. The response also highlighted recent international reports of the association between myocarditis and the second dose of mRNA vaccines in young men.
Singapore uses Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for its national vaccination programme, which are both mRNA-based vaccines.
“The social media post indicated that the 13-year-old male from the US had died from heart failure, although no cause of death has been made public and the case is currently under investigation by the US authorities,” said the committee.
It said US data indicates that cases of myocarditis following mRNA vaccinations are rare, with almost all such cases being resolved with minimal medical intervention.
“Professional medical associations in the US, including the American College of Paediatrics and the American Heart Association in the US have continued to strongly encourage vaccination in everyone aged 12 years and older,” the news channel quoted the committee as saying.
The committee added that it continues to recommend the use of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines for young men.
The expert committee said it continues to recommend that those vaccinated, particularly adolescents and younger men, avoid strenuous physical activity for one week after their second dose. They should also seek medical attention promptly if they develop chest pain, shortness of breath or abnormal heartbeats.
The committee said it will continue to monitor the data and review its recommendations as needed. Without more scientific data supporting the exact parameters for the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, Singapore's vaccination milestones for opening up will have to balance the risk of infection against the social and economic consequences of shutting down for too long, TODAY newspaper said quoting infectious disease experts.
The government task force leading the pandemic response had said on June 18 that it would progressively ease restrictions both within Singapore and at its borders based on two milestones: when 50 per cent of the population gets fully vaccinated and when 75 per cent receives the jabs.
Last Thursday, however, the target was shifted to a stage when two-thirds of the population are inoculated with two doses, as the authorities have managed to bring forward the delivery of vaccine supplies. Singapore is reaching the milestone soon as the task force said that two-thirds of the population are expected to have received both doses of the vaccine by National Day on August 9.
One expert, however, suggested that the "magic number" should be set higher, at 80 per cent. Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious diseases specialist from Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre, is calling for a “more cautious” stance as he fears that opening up too early might stress the healthcare system.
Noting that the Delta variant of the coronavirus that originated in India is more transmissible by at least 60 per cent, he said, “Once the healthcare system is overloaded, everything will crash very quickly.” He also pointed out that various scientists had asked for a herd immunity of 70 to 90 per cent before opening up, but as Singapore has a relatively small number of community (local) cases, its population relies principally on vaccines for protection.
“(At the two-thirds point,) I don’t think Singapore will be prepared. The number of cases and rapidity of spread may overwhelm our nation,” Dr Leong added. “If you think about it, it is a figment of our imagination to think that humans are in control of the virus.
As of Sunday, Singapore has reported a total of 62,544 COVID-19 cases and 36 deaths in a population of 5.7 million.