How Singapore overcame vaccine hesitancy

Stephanie Phang and Livia Yap

With the delta variant wreaking havoc on pandemic recovery and economic reopening plans around the world, the last thing any country needs is vaccine hesitancy. Yet it plagues developed and developing economies alike, regardless of their health-care standards.
One bright spot in Asia has been Singapore, which had fully vaccinated 81% of its population as of Sept. 5. Among elderly age 70 and above, the vaccination rate was 85 percent, well ahead of peers like Hong Kong.
Here’s how they did it:
1. Fighting fake news
Singapore clamps down hard on misleading information, educating the public through FAQs on its health ministry website, through social media including WhatsApp messages, and by using its contentious fake news law against false reports on Covid or vaccines.
It’s also pegged its reopening plan to the level of vaccination, giving people in the small, travel-starved nation an incentive to get shots. Social gathering rules are also now less strict for fully inoculated people, who are allowed to dine in at restaurants in groups of five. The unvaccinated only have the option to eat in pairs at open-air hawker centers or coffee shops.

2. Persuading the elderly
Singapore’s ministers have made multiple videos targeted at the elderly, explaining why they need to get vaccinated in different languages and Chinese dialects such as Teochew, Cantonese and Hokkien. The prime minister’s video on the same topic in English is featured on the front page of the health ministry’s website, under a “Get Vaccinated” section. There are also music videos featuring local celebrities who are popular with the elderly.
In a city where the very old often live alone in public high-rise apartments, Singapore sends mobile vaccination teams to those neighborhoods. Trucks armed with loudspeakers also make the rounds.
The government sends volunteers and staff from its grassroots association to visit unvaccinated seniors at home and answer questions on Covid and the vaccine. These outreach volunteers also help the elderly get to vaccination centers, or arrange for home vaccinations.
3. Making vaccines widely accessible
As Singapore secured more vaccine supplies, it ramped up its delivery infrastructure. It included more clinics as part of its national rollout network, and told seniors they can walk in for a jab without an appointment.
Singapore has been known for many social campaigns over the decades—it created a state-funded dating agency to spur marriages and sets racial quotas in public apartment complexes to prevent ethnic ghettos. This might be its most critical one yet, helping make its population one of the most vaccinated in the world. It is now talking about starting boosters this month.
But while its high inoculation rate has given it an edge in the race to reopen safely, it’s still treading cautiously. Its current goal: encouraging the population to restrain social activities to prevent an exponential rise in cases, and it wants to avoid reversing on its reopening trajectory. That’s a less concrete target than vaccinations, and may not be as easily achieved.—Bloomberg

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