SINGAPORE — The first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Singapore on Monday (21 December) evening, a week before the city-state is due to enter Phase 3 of its reopening.
The shipment – the first to be delivered to a country in Asia – was carried by a scheduled Singapore Airlines (SIA) Boeing 747-400 freighter SQ7979.
The flight departed from Brussels, Belgium, on Sunday and arrived in Singapore on Monday at 7.55pm, SIA said in a press statement.
The shipment was prioritised for loading into the aircraft in Brussels and during unloading in Singapore, the flag carrier added.
It was then transported to SATS’s cold-chain facility, Coolport, for subsequent storage and ground transportation.
SIA said it had conducted a successful shipment trial on the same freighter flight route on Saturday.
It had conducted the trial using cool boxes and actively tracked the internal temperature of each box throughout the flight. It had also measured the sublimation rate of the dry ice in the cool boxes.
SIA senior vice-president for cargo, Chin Yau Seng, said the airline was honoured to be able to play a part in an “important milestone in the fight against COVID-19”.
“It also served to demonstrate SIA’s and the Singapore air hub’s readiness for the very important job of transporting and distributing COVID-19 vaccines internationally,” he said.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine may be administered in Singapore as early as within the next two to three weeks, said Ministry of Health (MOH) director of medical services Kenneth Mak during a press conference on 14 December.
It is the first COVID-19 vaccine approved by the Health Sciences Authority in Singapore and has been rolled out in countries like the US and the UK.
Other vaccines are expected to arrive in Singapore in the coming months, including Moderna and Sinovac, with whom local authorities have signed advanced purchase agreements.
Singapore’s vaccination, which will occur in phases until end-2021, will be free for Singaporeans and long-term residents. While voluntary, authorities have strongly encouraged members of the public to get vaccinated.
Although authorities have not given details on how the vaccine will be rolled out, priority will be given to healthcare workers and front-line personnel, as well as the elderly and other vulnerable people.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will not be given to pregnant women, immunocompromised patients, and those under the age of 16 until more data are available.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and other Cabinet members are set to get early shots to assure members of the public of its safety.
In a Facebook post on Monday night, Lee thanked those involved in the efforts in bringing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to Singapore.
“It’s been a long and arduous year. I hope that this news will give Singaporeans cheer this festive season, and reason to be optimistic for 2021,” he said, adding that authorities will announce details of the vaccine rollout “in due course”.
Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung, who was on-site to welcome the shipment, said in a separate Facebook post that the Changi air hub ecosystem has been working out the delivery processes for months.
Ong said, “A historic cold chain moment on the night of Winter Solstice Festival. The first vaccine shipment has finally arrived, safely and smoothly.”
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