SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore has become the first country in Asia to approve Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine as it begins rolling out its immunisation programme to the wider population.
The city-state expects to receive the first shipment of the Moderna shots around March, adding to its stock of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine approved in December.
More than 175,000 people have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, including health workers and airline staff, while vaccination centres have been set up in recent weeks to start inoculating the elderly, authorities have said.
Singapore expects to have vaccinated its entire population by the third quarter, although last month the government said it was expecting shipment delays of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines due to upgrades in Pfizer’s manufacturing plant.
Singapore has signed advanced purchase agreements and made early downpayments on other promising vaccine candidates including Sinovac.
Moderna’s vaccine, which can be stored and transported more easily than Pfizer’s, is approved in Europe, the United States and Canada among others.
Vaccines in Singapore are voluntary and free.
The country’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong was among the early recipients, hoping to boost confidence in vaccines that have stirred rare hesitancy in a country that had largely tamed the virus with strict rules, mask wearing and contact tracing.
The island nation of about 5.7 million people has been reporting very few new local cases over the last few months. Since the start of the outbreak, Singapore recorded a total of more than 59,000 coronavirus cases, most of which occurred in crowded foreign worker dormitories.
Only 29 people have died from the disease in Singapore, according to its health ministry.
(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; editing by Jason Neely, Toby Chopra and Simon Cameron-Moore)