SINGAPORE, Dec. 22 (CNA) - While the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine in Singapore is good news, it will probably still take months for life to return to normal as the country builds herd immunity and the effects of the vaccine are studied more, said experts.
Those who are "lucky" to be among the first to get vaccinated may be hoping to get back to a normal way of life quickly, said vice-dean of research at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Associate Professor Alex Cook.
"But I suspect that they won’t be able to avoid wearing a mask, and socialise in more than the permitted group size and so on until enough (people) have been vaccinated that we are at or close to herd immunity."
The first shipment of the vaccine developed by United States pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German firm BioNTech arrived in Singapore on Monday (Dec 21). This was after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced last week that the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) had approved the vaccine for use here.
Other vaccinations are also expected to arrive in Singapore in the coming months, and the country " will have enough vaccines for everyone" by the third quarter of 2021 if all goes according to plan, Mr Lee said.
Singapore is likely to be among the last few countries in Southeast Asia to return to normal, but this will probably be months after the last cases of COVID-19 in the world, said president of the Asia Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infection Dr Paul Tambyah.
"If, and it is a big if, the vaccine is successfully rolled out all across the world and if it works, there is a good chance that the incidence of the disease may drop dramatically worldwide and then the WHO (World Health Organization) can declare the pandemic over and we can slowly get back to normalcy," he added.
There will be "no major change" to restrictions here for months, but as more people get vaccinated throughout 2021, Singapore will approach herd immunity, allowing preventative measures to be eased, said Professor Dale Fisher, senior consultant at NUH and Chair of the WHO Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network.
And even though a vaccine has arrived in Singapore, people need to actually get the jab to be protected, said Assoc Prof Cook.
"So until enough people are vaccinated, society as a whole does not get protected."