Singaporeans are entitled to free COVID vaccinations but what is the experience like? Three City Harvest members working on the frontlines share their vaccination stories.
COVID-19 upended the lives of human beings all around the world in 2020, but the good news is that vaccines, like those created by Pfizer BioNTech are now available.
In Singapore, the COVID-19 vaccination programme aims to protect its people against the virus as well as return businesses and organisations to a level of normalcy, and hopefully soon, economic recovery.
The Singapore government has made vaccination free for all Singaporeans and long-term residents. Getting vaccinated is crucial in protecting oneself and preventing the spread of COVID, which can be deadly to certain groups of people, particularly the elderly and the chronic sick. The greater the percentage of vaccinated people in Singapore, the greater the protection for the whole community.
The most effective way for the world to overcome the pandemic altogether is to create herd immunity, that is, to have as many people in the world—at least 75 percent—vaccinated against the virus as possible. Countries are achieving this at different speeds—Israel for example has vaccinated over 90 percent of its population—and Singapore is aiming for 1.25 million people vaccinated by the end of April.
The first recipients of the vaccines in Singapore have been essential workers such as those in healthcare, aviation, transport and those working with the elderly. City News speaks to three City Harvest Church members who have received the full dose of vaccinations.
XANTHE CHUA, ADVANCED PRACTICE NURSE, TAN TOCK SENG HOSPITAL
Xanthe was among the first APNs to be deployed from TTSH to the NCID Screening Centre this time last year when COVID-19 began to spread rapidly throughout Singapore. Having gone through months of exhausting battles against the virus, Xanthe knows firsthand the importance of protection against a resurgence of COVID.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has gone on for a year. The only way to put a stop to it is to have a safe and effective vaccine.
“Taking the vaccine is not compulsory, but I went for it because I feel that I have a duty to protect my patients and my family. At the beginning, I was a little unsure about the vaccine with regards to its safety data, particularly since it seemed to have been developed so quickly. I went and read up on reports related to Pfizer BioNTech’s COVID vaccine, particularly focusing on side effects and long term complications.
“Having seen the worst of COVID in my job definitely affected my decision to go for the vaccine. The COVID-19 virus has evolved to many different strains, and the new strain of the virus spreads more easily and quickly. Protection is so important.
“I had my first injection on 22 Jan 2021—I was very excited. There wasn’t any pain during the injection—it’s less painful than the influenza vaccine. I didn’t experience much after-effects, except feeling tired on that very evening.
“My second injection was two weeks later. I saw some of my colleagues develop side effects such as fever and rashes after their injection. As for me, the second injection was very different from my first one. I felt really lethargic and had severe body aches the next day. It was the kind of feeling when you know you coming down with the flu. But all symptoms disappeared by Day 3.
“I know there are some people who don’t want to take the vaccine because of the side effects, even the mild side effects. Personally, I think if a small vaccine can trigger our body’s response and make us feel unwell, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be infected with the COVID virus! So I would encourage everyone who are able to be vaccinated to go. You would be protecting your loved ones too.”
JEANETTE SOH, CASE MANAGER, CHCSA
Jeanette works at City Harvest Community Services Association and is in regular contact with senior citizens at CHCSA’s centre for the elderly, House of Joy.
“Part of my job as a case manager is to do home visits to seniors and interact with them at HOJ. The Ministry of Health has made provision for frontline workers working with vulnerable populations to be among the first to receive vaccination. The CHCSA staff was offered slots to get vaccinated on a non-compulsory basis, and I decided to take it up.
“I did have some concerns before deciding on the vaccination. My husband and I are trying to conceive, so we had a long discussion about the pros and cons of taking the vaccine, and when to take it. After all, MOH had issued an advisory that pregnant women should not take the vaccine, and that we should only start trying to conceive only one month after both vaccinations.
“In January, there was still little research about how the vaccine would impact pregnancies. Additionally, there were YouTube videos and forwarded WhatsApp messages claiming that the vaccine would affect fertility—those didn’t help!
“My concerns were mainly having to delay our plans for a family for two months, and also that the vaccine may affect my health and the health of my future children.
“To educate myself, I read the MOH FAQ about the vaccine, and kept track of the news regarding the differences between the different vaccines. So I knew that the vaccine would not cause any DNA mutations and that it would activate my immune system. However, we had to accept that at such an early stage, there would not be comprehensive information and data to allay all our concerns.
“Ultimately I decided to take the vaccine because we had the peace of God about our plans for our family. Getting vaccinated quickly would also safeguard my future pregnancy should the COVID situation worsen in Singapore. I wanted to be responsible to my family, colleagues and beneficiaries that I would come into contact with.
“COVID affected the livelihoods, and the mental and emotional health of my clients. I felt that my being vaccinated would greatly assure the seniors and their caregivers. It would also give my parents and beneficiaries the confidence to opt for the vaccine when it is their turn.
“I went for my first injection on 1 Feb 2021. I was nervous because I have a small phobia of injection needles after previously experiencing fainting episodes during injections. When I got there, there were two screening stations: one for ID and the other to check for medical conditions that would make me ineligible for the vaccine. This second screening assured me that even right up to the point of the vaccination, I was able to clarify any doubts with the nurses.
“The injection was quite quick, and nurses were efficient in explaining the side effects and also giving us tips to manage the after effects. They did not prolong the process which would have caused more anxiety—it was faster than I expected. The jab was followed by a 30-minute observation period, where I sat in a room with a nurse who kept track of the time. I did not feel any side effects except for the soreness at the injection site for the next two days.
“I had heard that the side effects were more severe after the second jab, so I was a little concerned. After my second injection, I experienced prickling and itchiness during the 30 minute observation period, but those were fleeting and I did not get rashes. That night, however, I began feeling fatigued after a full day of work and cell group meeting, and had to go home earlier than usual. Over the next two days, I experienced shoulder and neck aches, as if I was going to fall sick. There was fatigue as well, but this only peaked on the third day.
“To people considering whether to be vaccinated or not, I would encourage them not to listen to their fears but do their best within their control, for example, address their concerns by finding out facts about the vaccines from proper channels, ignoring speculations and consulting doctors and talking the decision through with their significant others. Having done all, I would advise them to bring a good book for the 30-minute observations.”
CYNTHIA YEN, CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS LEAD
“I work in the aviation industry and being in the frontline and working at Changi Airport, I was among those were given the privilege to be first to receive the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine through Raffles Medical Group.
“I know it sounds dramatic but with more than two million around the world succumbing to the contagion, witnessing firsthand people’s livelihoods impacted and industries at the brink of collapse, being vaccinated was a rational decision to make.
“Before the vaccination exercise, my company organised a session for the doctors from RMG to speak to us about the nature of the vaccine, the side effects and what to do in the event of a reaction. We were encouraged to send in questions and they answered in a Zoom session—their answers allayed my concerns. Many of the questions concerned allergies, lactation, pregnancies and pre-existing conditions. Anything else, we were advised to seek medical counsel from our own doctors.
“As the jab is voluntary, we have the right to refuse the vaccination for personal reasons. However, after the session, many of my colleagues felt more informed and were confident with their decision to get vaccinated.
“I received my first dose on 1 February at 2pm, and the second 21 days later, on 22 February. It was an ordinary injection like any other, but that 30ml orange solution was, in my mind, the elixir of life or death.
“After the first dose, the only side effect I felt was an arm ache at the injection site 4 to 6 hours after the jab. It got worse the next 12 hours as I made the mistake of sleeping on that arm. I also woke up more tired than usual, but I couldn’t tell if it was the effects of the vaccination or binge-watching K drama the night before. The effects wore off by the next evening and I was able to return to work as usual.
“I was advised that the side effects of the second jab would be more serious so I was more tense. Sitting in the cubicle, I asked for the nurse to give me a moment to say The Lord’s Prayer and before I finished, she had delivered the jab. I was surprised that I didn’t even feel it; unlike the first dose, my arm barely ached. In fact, I managed to sleep well after that too. I believe the Lord had a big part to play in my recovery.
“I understand there is general fear and uncertainly around the virus as this is unchartered territory. I would advise anyone who’s not sure to speak to their doctor—especially if they have pre-existing conditions or severe allergies—before deciding on the vaccination. There are medical teams on standby to support you at the vaccination centres, should anything happen.
“I would also say, as with anything, pray for the Lord’s covering and remember that He did not give us a spirit of fear, but of love, power and a sound mind.”