A frontline worker with Singapore Airlines shares her Covid-19 vaccination experience exclusively with us

By the end of 2021, the Singapore population could potentially be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. However, although the country will have the capacity and capability to ensure that everyone receives the Covid-19 vaccine, there are a variety of factors that could affect the vaccination process.

In December 2020, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had announced that the country will have enough vaccines for the entire population by Q3 of 2021. 

Many have been curious about the vaccination process, with questions about the pain as well as the possible side effects. 

Frontline workers in the aviation and maritime sectors in Singapore are prioritised for the Covid-19 vaccine, with vaccination centres for the two industries set up in January. 

We spoke to a leading stewardess from Singapore Airlines, Amber Chan, who has been flying with the national carrier for the past decade, to get a first-hand account of the vaccination process and to know her thoughts as a frontline worker that was among the first to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. 

(Related: Covid-19 Vaccine in Singapore: What You Should Know)

Above Leading stewardess Amber Chan, in a Singapore Airlines campaign video released in November 2020, on the national carrier's Covid-19 measures

Tell us more about the Covid-19 vaccination process and where you received the jab?

Amber Chan (AC) We were vaccinated on February 3 at Changi Airport Terminal 4, which has been turned into a vaccination centre.

Firstly, we began with registration where a healthcare worker asked us about our medical history and drug allergies and what happens if we consume those drugs. Depending on the severity of the reaction, and especially if any swelling or anaphylactic distress is mentioned, a doctor on site will be called to assess us to see if we are fit to take the vaccine. If we were cleared to receive the vaccine, we moved on to step two, which would be the actual vaccination.

At the vaccination area, there were several booths with nurses who administered the vaccine. Before he or she proceeded, a second health screening was done to check on any possible allergies. The nurses told us about the possible side effects such as fever, soreness of the arm and fatigue, and then asked if we were right- or left-handed. If you were right-handed, they will administer the injection in your left arm.

After the shot was given, my nurse checked that I was fine, applied a plaster and told me that I would be placed under observation for 30 minutes before being released. This is to ensure that there is medical attention on hand in the event of a negative reaction to the vaccine.

The third and final step would be the 30 minutes of observation where everyone who has been vaccinated will sit and wait for their ‘release time’ to be announced. A final check was then done to ensure that our particulars were in order, and a reminder was issued to visit a doctor if any possible side effects lingered after the third day.

Did the injection hurt?

AC The jab did not hurt in the slightest. It was like a tiny ant’s bite.

What were the side effects you faced? Were you advised on what to do if they were serious?

AC I felt a soreness in my left arm for two days and a general sense of fatigue. Most of my crew colleagues whom I had spoken to faced the same side effects, but these were not drastic. We were advised to take paracetamol if we develop a fever and to monitor and hydrate ourselves regularly. Should any side effects persist after the third day, we were advised to seek medical attention immediately.

(Related: Singapore is First in Asia to Approve Moderna’s Covid-19 Vaccine)

The jab did not hurt in the slightest. It was like a tiny ant’s bite.

—Singapore Airlines leading stewardess Amber Chan

Are all SIA crew members encouraged to take the vaccine?

AC Yes, every medically-able SIA cabin crew member is encouraged to take the vaccine to safeguard their well-being. 

SIA regularly provides information and updates on the vaccine as well as what to expect if we take it. There is even a list of Q&As devoted to answering any questions that crew may have about the vaccination process. As a show of solidarity and to show the staff that vaccination is safe, SIA senior management took the lead to receive their vaccinations.

Why did you choose to take the vaccine? 

AC Initially, I was very sceptical and did not want to take the vaccine. This is largely due to my drug allergy. The particular drug I am allergic to causes a severe reaction where I lose control of some of the nerves in my body, especially in the eyes and neck. I was reluctant to take the vaccine, not knowing if I might react badly. 

Ultimately, it was after a virtual get-together session with my colleagues where I learnt that health screenings are provided and doctors are on site. This alleviated my doubts knowing I could clarify with a doctor before getting the vaccine. 

I do truly believe that at the end of the day, the pros outweigh the cons, especially with the exposure we face as cabin crew. Taking the vaccine means that I would not only be keeping myself safe, but also my loved ones back home and with anyone I come into contact with.

(Related: Covid-19 Vaccines Will Be Free For Singaporeans)

When are you scheduled for the second jab?

AC I am scheduled for my second dose 24 days after my first one. While MOH recommends 21 days as the interim period before getting the second dose, as cabin crew, we are rostered for our second dose according to our rosters and on a best-effort basis. 

However, this does not mean that the vaccine will be less effective. It simply shows the monumental task put upon SIA to have all of us vaccinated as soon as possible while still operating on flights. Our flights are our bread and butter! SIA also ensures that we have two days off in Singapore after receiving each dose, to ensure that medical attention will be easily accessible if we require it.

Even if you’re not a frontline worker and you’re medically-able, I would definitely recommend getting vaccinated. We come into contact with people from all walks of life... taking the vaccine mitigates all those factors and fears.

—Singapore Airlines leading stewardess Amber Chan

As a frontline worker, what would you tell anyone who’s hesitant about taking the Covid-19 vaccine?

AC I would say the pros outweigh the cons greatly. As frontline workers, we face risks and exposure to Covid-19 whenever we operate any flight or have a layover in any hotel overseas. Although we are not allowed to leave our hotel rooms, there is always a sense of caution regarding touching surfaces or even ordering food. 

When we return home to our loved ones, we have to self-isolate until our swab test results come back negative. Even then, we face the possibility of receiving Quarantine Orders if there is a positive case onboard. 

Imagine having all these risks reduced greatly from just two vaccine doses—I would argue it is pretty life-changing. Even if you’re not a frontline worker and you’re medically-able, I would definitely recommend getting vaccinated. We come into contact with people from all walks of life and while nobody wants to be a carrier, we will never know on first contact if they, or we, are unwilling carriers of the virus. Taking the vaccine mitigates all those factors and fears.

Having said this, it is important to note that it typically takes a few weeks for an individual to build up immunity after completing vaccination. We should still continue to practise strict social distancing measures at every opportunity.

With more SIA crew members getting vaccinated, does this mean that the frequency of flights may increase?

AC We definitely hope so! It certainly will provide more relief among crew and passengers when more of us are fully vaccinated. As of now, we are flying to major cities like New York, so hopefully, more vaccinated people worldwide will result in more flights.

(Related: Singapore Airlines May Become the First Fully Vaccinated Airline in the World)

More updates on the Covid-19 vaccine process in Singapore are available here.