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Health Minister Gan Kim Yong responded to concerns over the B.1.1.7 variant of the COVID-19 virus, that emerged in the UK last month.

While there is insufficient evidence as to whether the new strain is more virulent, severe and caused higher mortality, the B.1.1.7 variant has raised alarm bells worldwide since it is believed to be substantially more transmissible than other COVID-19 variants.

As Singapore barred travellers from the UK over the B.1.1.7 variant, Singaporeans grew concerned over the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines that are being deployed to the nation against the new strain.

Experts have said that the novel coronavirus does not mutate as quickly as, for example, influenza viruses, and the new vaccines that had proved effective by the end of 2020 are types that can be adjusted if necessary.

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As of the end of 2020, German, British, and American health authorities and experts believe that existing vaccines will be as effective against the new variant as against previous variants and Public Health England specifically confirmed there is “no evidence” to suggest that the new variant would be resistant to the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine.

The Singapore Government made a similar statement in Parliament on Monday (4 Jan).

In response to Radin Mas SMC MP Melvin Yong’s question on whether there is any data to show that the current COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the new strains seen in the UK and Europe, Health Minister Gan Kim Ying said that there is currently no evidence that current COVID-19 vaccines are less effective against this strain.

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He said, in a ministerial statement: “Mutations occur in viruses naturally and different strains can emerge from time to time, especially in a long-drawn pandemic.

“While this B.1.1.7 strain from UK, does appear to be more transmissible, there is currently no evidence that current COVID-19 vaccines are less effective against this strain. Experts have said that it is unlikely that these mutations would impact effectiveness of current vaccines.”

Adding that vaccine manufacturers are working to formally confirm the efficacy of their products against the new strain, Mr Gan added:

“Vaccine producers such as Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have also come forward to reassure that their vaccines should protect against the B.1.1.7 variant, and are undertaking studies to formally confirm this. MOH will evaluate the data as it emerges and review our vaccine strategy and border measures accordingly.”

Singapore is rolling out a large-scale COVID-19 immunisation operation this year. 5.7 million people, including citizens, permanent residents and long-term residents, can sign up to get immunised for free when the vaccine becomes available sometime this year.

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