Those vaccinated likely to avoid severe disease: Experts
While vaccinated individuals are getting infected, they are unlikely to suffer from severe disease
From Aug 3 to 23, the number of local Covid-19 infections dropped to a daily average of 61.4 after a previous spike in cases had prompted the authorities here to tighten safety measures.
Just when it looked as if Singapore had got the latest surge under control, the country recorded 111 locally transmitted infections on Aug 24, and since then, the daily average of such cases has stood at 120.7.
And the nation is seeing more vaccinated people being infected.
With 80 per cent of the population here fully vaccinated, infectious disease experts are not surprised.
Speaking to The New Paper recently, Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, emphasised that while people who have been vaccinated can still be infected and can also infect others, they are in a far better position than those who have not been jabbed.
"They are much less likely to develop severe symptoms as a result of infection, to the point that they require hospital care, oxygen supplementation, or even ICU (intensive care unit) care," said Prof Teo.
"For the clusters mentioned, if the individuals were not vaccinated, I expect there may be a few more people who would progress on to develop serious health problems as a result of being infected."
As of yesterday, there were 68 clusters numbering between three and 1,155 infections.
On Aug 24, the Ministry of Manpower reported that there were 62 infections detected among migrant workers at the North Coast Lodge in Woodlands who were all fully vaccinated, and as of last night the cluster at the dormitory had grown to 151.
On Aug 27, the Singapore Prison Service and Yellow Ribbon Singapore said that as at Aug 26, 18 supervisees residing at the Selarang Halfway House had tested positive, of whom 14 were fully vaccinated while one had received the first dose of a vaccine.
As of last night, the cluster has grown to 32 cases.
Some who are vaccinated will be concerned at the numbers and those still hesitating to trust the vaccines will be even more sceptical, but Dr Paul Tambyah, president of the Asia-Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infection, said: "(If the individuals in the clusters were unvaccinated), the worst-case scenario is that we might have multiple patients in ICUs as vaccination protects individuals from severe disease."
He added: "Data suggests that the vaccines provide around 90 per cent protection against severe disease and death.
"(Vaccines also provide) a 50 to 60 per cent reduction in contracting the disease which is not great but might be important in certain high risk areas."
The Health Ministry said in its daily update last night that over the last 28 days, the percentage of unvaccinated who became severely ill or died was at 9.3 per cent, while that for the fully vaccinated stood at 1.3 per cent. It also reported that there were clusters linked to eight bus interchanges with a total of 229 staff infected.
In response to queries from TNP, a spokesman for the Land Transport Authority said on Sunday that over 99 per cent of public transport operators had completed their first dose of the vaccine and more than 95 per cent were fully vaccinated.
Said Prof Teo: "Some of the bus captains who are older and may have underlying medical conditions will certainly be at higher risk of severe disease if they were not fully vaccinated."
But he does not anticipate more severe disease in settings where the infected are generally younger and in better health, such as the dormitory and the halfway house.
As the country prepares for the next phase of a four-stage plan towards becoming Covid-19 resilient, Associate Professor Alex Cook, vice-dean of research at NUS' Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said the large number of breakthrough infections being detected currently is because of the intensive contact tracing around clusters.
"Without those efforts, because most of the breakthrough infections are mild or even without symptoms, they wouldn't register.
"Given that the vast majority of the population is vaccinated and we are still doing intensive contact tracing, we can expect to continue seeing substantial numbers of breakthrough infections. But most importantly, a much smaller fraction of them will have severe disease," explained Prof Cook.
He added that the best way to allay concerns about the efficacy of vaccines is to "do the maths".
"Using the cases from the last four weeks, for every 1,000 cases who are infected despite being vaccinated, one will die, two more will be in ICU and 12 will need supplemental oxygen," said Prof Cook.
"But for every 1,000 unvaccinated cases, 19 will die, 12 will be in ICU and 66 more will need oxygen.
"So it is a huge gamble not to get vaccinated, especially for our elders."