Expired vaccines are an insurance premium we paid to stave off catastrophic consequences: Ong Ye Kung

expired vaccines are an insurance premium we paid to stave off catastrophic consequences ong ye kung

The Government knew early on during the COVID-19 pandemic that vaccines would provide us with a safe exit from the pandemic. Hence the mass vaccination strategy.

However, without sufficient doses of vaccines, our mass vaccination strategy would have been a non-starter, as Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said in Parliament.

COVID-19 was a new virus. “Although several vaccines were concurrently being developed at that time, nobody knew which one will work and which one to buy,” Mr Ong said in Parliament

The Government had to make a judgement call on the procurement of vaccines

Country were all clamouring for vaccines, and limited manufacturing capacity at that time could not meet world demand.

As a small market we lack negotiating power. This would normally push us down the queue for delivery, Mr Ong  said.  The situation was worsened by supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic, he added.

But time was of essence.

How can Singapore secure assured and early deliveries?

An inter-agency workgroup chaired by the Head of Civil Service was set up to develop our vaccine procurement approach. They comprised senior officials from agencies such as Prime Minister’s Office Singapore, MOH, A*STAR, Health Sciences Authority (HSA) and Economic Development Board (EDB). 

The workgroup recommended a portfolio approach to buy vaccines – don’t put all our bets on one vaccine but buy a selected number of vaccines across different technology platforms. This includes both mRNA and non-mRNA vaccines.

To identify the most promising candidates, the workgroup was advised by a panel of experts from the research institutes, hospitals and industry.

Why the need to over-procure?

We had placed our bets on several vaccines to ensure that at least some of them would work. And if one does not work, we had to make sure that the other one had enough volume to cover the whole population. 

“Hence, we needed to over-procure, such that the combined volumes of all the vaccine candidates more than cover the population of Singapore,” Mr Ong said. 

When it became clear that vaccine protection could wane over time, especially amongst the elderly and that boosters would be needed, we procured additional vaccine doses to administer boosters to the whole population.

Because we secured safe and efficacious vaccines, delivered when we needed them most, Singaporeans took them with confidence, even with relief. We built up our population immunity and achieved DORSCON Green today.

Expired vaccines: the price to stave off catastrophic consequences

Because we deliberately over-procured to mitigate the uncertainty of selected vaccine candidate not working, and the possibility of supply chains being disrupted, the result is that there would be spare vaccine stock. These vaccines will eventually expire.

Expired vaccines are the premium price we pay to stay safe. 

The expiry of unused vaccines was an insurance premium – the price we were prepared to pay to stave off the risk of catastrophic consequences.

About 15% of vaccines with a total value of $140 million expired. In the coming months, this will rise to 25%.

Before vaccines were available, we had to resort to a Circuit Breaker in April 2020 to contain the pandemic.

“The two-month Circuit Breaker cost us around $11 billion in terms of GDP loss. And we spent close to another $60 billion over two financial years to cushion the hardship for businesses and workers, not to mention the heartaches and difficulties families had to go through.”

“Without vaccines, we would certainly have had to resort to further Circuit Breakers during the Delta and Omicron waves in late 2021 and throughout 2022. But we did not have to, because we got the vaccines early and they protected us,” said Mr Ong

In conclusion

Singapore has one of the highest Covid-19 vaccination rates in the world. The overall Covid-19 case fatality rate here is 0.1%. It is one of the lowest in the world compared with the average of about 1% worldwide.

This means the fatality rate in Singapore is about 10 times lower than the average worldwide. 

Globally, around 6.9 million people had died of COVID-19 infections. 

1,711 people in Singapore had died of COVID-19 infections.


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