A resident in orthopaedics surgery, Mok Ying Ren is a medical doctor in a public healthcare institution. The views he expresses here are of his own and don’t necessarily represent that of his employer.
He is also a two-time SEA games gold medallist and seven-time Singapore Marathon Local Champion who holds the national record in the 5000m event.
It was my turn to receive my Covid-19 vaccine this week. Despite it being optional for healthcare workers, it was something I wanted to do.
The entire process took me less than 35 minutes as it was well planned by my hospital.
After a smooth check-in and signing of forms, a nurse kindly delivered the vaccine using a really small needle.
The injection made my shoulder slightly sore, but the sensation was bearable.
Once that was done, I was ushered to the observation area where I had to monitor for any side effects.
We were also given a vaccination card to remind us of our second dose.
As I was waiting in the observation bay for 30 minutes, I pondered the significance of my decision.
The fear of the unknown
If one is to be honest, one can never know the outcome of taking a vaccine.
There have been severe allergic reactions reported in a handful of young Singaporeans so far and even death overseas.
It would be presumptuous then, to think that we are immune to these complications.
Indeed the reality is that every medical intervention comes with its risk, and the Covid-19 vaccine is no different.
I know some who have chosen to decline the vaccine because they are young, they are not travelling soon, or they would rather not take the risk.
If widespread, such reasons affect a vaccine’s effectiveness in the community.
That is because a high level of population coverage provides protection for the majority of our population.
There is no doubt that I share some of their concerns.
However, I believe there are reasons to hope given that the potential risks and benefits have been weighed out by the government.
What gives me confidence
As individuals, we have to admit we do not have the capacity to read every research on vaccines and their outcomes.
Thus, we often rely on our government, as a team, to do their “homework” for us – through expert panels, parliamentary debates and population surveys.
For example, according to the Ministry of Health (MOH), the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has assessed that the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine meets safety and efficacy standards by keeping itself abreast with latest research and Phase 3 studies which have involved over 40,000 people.
It also gives us confidence that according to MOH, the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine has been scrutinised and authorised by the US FDA and regulatory authorities in the UK and Canada.
This practice of assessing research data to determine an intervention, is known as Evidence Based Medicine, EBM for short.
It is the conscientious, explicit, judicious and reasonable use of modern, best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients.
EBM is the result of an honest understanding that as humans we are not omniscient and cannot make medical decisions off the cuff, but to rely as much as possible on clinical results.
An example of how it is applied is in Orthopaedics:
When there are two implants that can be used for a specific fracture, surgeons can refer to published studies, to find out the risks and benefits of each and to choose an implant that suits the patient and fracture profile to achieve the best outcome possible.
It does not guarantee that no complications will arise, but it does mean with our limited knowledge, we use pooled research data to guide us in our decision making, to achieve the best possible outcome.
Nevertheless, methodologies like EBM and panel discussions are not fool- proof as seen from history, where drugs are withdrawn due to side effects only found later after release.
The Ministry of Health also does not attempt to hide this fact, openly declaring that in view of the short-term studies, “very rare serious adverse events” may only be picked up in the future.
It is because of such unknown side effects that the vaccination is not recommended for pregnant women and the immunocompromised, among other population groups.
However, for a vaccine to be confidently rolled out with our state leaders leading by example, a certain safety criteria must have been met.
In addition, Singapore’s excellent track record in managing the outbreak gives one confidence that the vaccination programme is in our country’s best interest.
My source of all hope
As such, I decided to take this vaccine not because I am sure I will escape complications or because of my complete faith in the processes.
As we can see the above, none of it is infallible. But I still decided to do so in order to respond to the needs of the community.
According to MOH, “A population with high vaccination coverage against Covid-19 will indirectly protect those who are unable to receive Covid-19 vaccination (e.g. severely immunocompromised individuals, subgroups such as children where safety data is not available), as the risk of transmission of the disease will be greatly reduced.”
And as we make this decision to place the community over ourselves, we need to find our ultimate infallible source of hope and assurance above this uncertainty.
For me, as a Christian, my hope is in God who is in control over all things (Romans 8:28).
As influential cultural commentator Albert Mohler says, “encouragement, is very different from coercion” but I will ask that you consider getting vaccinated, especially if you are eligible.
This article was adapted from the initial publication on Thir.st.