KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 19 – I visited Singapore last Monday to get the latest monovalent XBB.1.5 shot, an mRNA vaccine by Moderna; the Covid-19 booster dose cost me SG$158 (RM555).
Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad and Health director-general Dr Muhammad Radzi Abu Hassan’s joint press conference on Covid-19 last month did not indicate the Malaysian government’s intent in procuring the updated monovalent XBB.1.5 vaccine any time soon for a public vaccination programme, or even simply approving it for the private market.
Malaysia’s Ministry of Health (MOH) has confirmed that the only Covid-19 vaccine available in the country is Sinovac that targets the original strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus; no recommendations were made for a fifth dose, or third booster jab.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended last December 13 the use of monovalent XBB.1.5 vaccines across different platforms against currently circulating variants.
Countries like Singapore, the United States, and even Hong Kong have already rolled out the new monovalent XBB.1.5 mRNA vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna for 2023/ 2024 that target the Omicron variant, XBB.1.5.
Singapore recommends an additional Covid vaccine dose for all individuals aged six months and above about a year – and no earlier than five months – after their last shot, due to waning vaccine effectiveness over time.
My friend, a Malaysian-born who recently became a Singaporean citizen, even got an SMS alert from Singapore’s MOH on January 2, encouraging him to get an additional Covid-19 vaccine dose as “immunity weakens over time”, helpfully reminding him that his last shot was more than one year ago.
On Covid-19 vaccination, Singapore’s MOH uses the term “additional” dose rather than “booster” dose, as well as “minimum protection” as opposed to “complete” vaccination.
The Singaporean government provides free Covid vaccines for all Singaporeans and long-term residents in Singapore, including permanent residents and employment pass holders.
Before I got my Moderna monovalent XBB.1.5 vaccine dose on January 15, which would be my fifth Covid jab, my previous shot (Pfizer) was more than 18 months ago in June 2022.
I made the decision to invest in preventive health by travelling to Singapore for the updated Covid vaccine – available for foreign visitors under its Private Vaccination Programme – because I figured that the cost of falling severely sick from Covid-19 outweighed the cost of my flight to Singapore, one night’s accommodation, and the price of the vaccine itself.
Sure, Paxlovid antiviral medication is available in Malaysia, which MOH has been pushing heavily, but why not prevent serious disease in the first place?
This is what vaccination is for. Vaccines harness the body’s powerful immune system to manage infection so that we only get mildly sick, instead of complicated outcomes that may result in hospitalisation or death.
Vaccination is a “completely natural approach”, explained beautifully by a Pfizer vaccines expert in countering the pervasive militarisation concept of vaccination.
Long Covid also scared me, particularly after I read The Star health journalist Revathi Murugappan’s story of her harrowing battle with the condition.
Annual updated Covid-19 vaccination is no different than yearly flu jabs, except that Covid doesn’t appear to be a mere respiratory disease as Long Covid affects multiple organ systems.
Many Malaysians are also unaware that even influenza can kill, particularly older people aged 65 years and above, which is why annual flu shots are important.
Process Of Getting Covid-19 Vaccination In Singapore
Singapore makes it really easy to access information.
If you’re a Malaysian living in Malaysia and you want to get a booster of the updated monovalent XBB.1.5 mRNA vaccine (if your last Covid jab was over a year ago), you need to make an appointment with a health care provider under Singapore’s Private Vaccination Programme (PVP).
The PVP page lists a bunch of clinics and the type of Covid vaccine provided (the monovalent XBB.1.5 shot by either Moderna or Pfizer), including online appointment links at a couple of centres.
I chose Healthway Medical at Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital, simply because it was the first on the list and it had a link to make an appointment. Healthway Medical provides Moderna for SG$158 per dose (price inclusive of GST).
I didn’t have to make payment immediately.
After I made an online appointment for January 15, I immediately received an email confirming my appointment. The email stated that a member of staff would be in touch with me to confirm my appointment (you can just ignore this; I didn’t receive any calls).
I also received an SMS on my appointment confirmation.
On January 14, I received another SMS reminder for my January 15 appointment.
So off I went to Singapore on a Firefly flight from Subang airport on the evening of January 14. I decided to stay the night prior to my vaccination appointment because I didn’t really want to rush in and out on the same day.
My appointment was scheduled for 3.20pm, while my travel companion’s appointment was for 2.30pm. We arrived together at the Healthway Medical clinic at Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital earlier at around 2pm.
As there were no other patients waiting, the staff processed our appointments immediately. We had to show our passports and vaccination cards for our previous Covid jabs. Otherwise, I suppose you can also show your digital Covid vaccination records on your iPhone’s Health app.
The doctor gave us a consent form to fill out. Then a nurse administered my Moderna XBB.1.5 shot. Easy peasy!
After that, a GP gave me a printed letter listing the dates and types of Covid vaccine I have received, including my latest jab at Healthway Medical. The letter stated that I am up to date with my vaccinations and that I don’t need further vaccinations for this year. The doctor told me that protection from my Covid shot would last for about a year.
According to the clinic staff, my digital vaccination record will be on https://www.notarise.gov.sg/ in about two weeks. We paid for our vaccination at the clinic via card.
The day after my vaccination, I got a fever, body aches, and chills for about the whole day, which the GP had told me to prepare for. Just needed to take paracetamol. The side effects from Moderna were a lot stronger than the last I remember with my Pfizer jab.
At least now, I don’t have to worry about Covid for 2024.
On a final note, I recognise that I’m very privileged to be able to afford a trip to Singapore to get the latest Covid-19 vaccine.
It’s understandable if the Anwar administration is reluctant to provide fully subsidised Covid vaccination with the updated monovalent XBB.1.5 vaccine under a public programme to avoid vaccine wastage. The take-up rates were half the population for the first booster and a minuscule 2.5 per cent for the second booster over the past few years.
But the least the federal government can do is to make the new Covid-19 vaccine available in private health care facilities, so that those who wish to pay a few hundred ringgit for it out of pocket can do so.
Employers can even cover vaccination of their employees with the updated shot, while state governments can set aside some allocations to partially or fully subsidise private Covid vaccination for a minority of state residents who wish to get boosted with the monovalent XBB.1.5 vaccine.
Note: Please don’t take my essay as medical advice because I’m not a doctor. I just want to explain the process of how to get the new monovalent XBB.1.5 vaccine in Singapore.