How Singapore vaccinated nearly 90 per cent of its population in a year

By Ming En Liew

Chan Chi Ling, Deputy Director and Senior Product Manager of Open Government Products, GovTech Singapore, gives the behind the scenes of the country’s Covid-19 vaccination booking system.

After World War II, Singapore battled numerous infectious diseases, including diphtheria and measles. The nation took a hard stance and made vaccines for these diseases compulsory for children. Today, diphtheria is completely eradicated from Singapore, and measles is well contained.

The nation was likewise ready to roll out vaccines in the war against Covid-19. With a well-planned vaccination programme, Singapore today has one of the highest vaccination rates globally. 96 per cent of the eligible population has received two doses as of December 2021.

This was possible with Singapore’s online vaccination booking system. Chan Chi Ling, Deputy Director and Senior Product Manager of Open Government Products (OGP), GovTech Singapore, shares how the team created a system that effectively drove the vaccination programme.

Prioritising at-risk groups 

When vaccines were approved for use at the end of 2020, the OGP team was tasked to develop a vaccine appointment system in two weeks, says Chan. The system allows residents to preregister for the vaccine, be notified when there are available slots, and book an appointment online.

Covid-19 vaccines were in limited supply when Singapore received its first shipment in December 2020. Countries needed to prioritise population groups to protect those at a higher risk of contracting the virus, or who were more vulnerable, says Chan.

Singapore’s vaccination appointment system prioritised high risk groups such as healthcare professionals, seniors above the age of 65, and essential workers, she explains. Subsequent population groups were then filtered in as the vaccine supply stabilised.

In the beginning, many countries faced the challenge where demand exploded and quickly outstripped supply, causing severe allocation challenges , she adds.

Singapore introduced a pre-registration form in its vaccine booking system to address this. Pre-registration allowed the government to establish a holding list. This allowed the government to control demand by directly notifying registered individuals when a slot is available.

“We didn’t want people to show up at clinics or on the appointment system and not be able to get their vaccine”, says Chan. Without the list, there will be a surge of demand every time slots are available, which could overwhelm the system and lead to disappointment, she explains.

With pre-registration, “we can optimise the pace of the vaccination programme. It goes as fast as we have supply for,” she says.

Building trust

The vaccine appointment system also directed individuals to book their vaccination slots at clinics with less traffic to prevent long queues, says Chan. It indicated which clinics had more open slots, and placed them higher on the list of available options.

“Through ordering of clinics and visual cues, we are able to direct traffic across clinics to smoothen out the demand and supply,” explains Chan.

OGP also ensured that citizens could book appointments for multiple doses of the vaccine at the same time. This ensured citizens received both doses of vaccines within the appropriate time interval.

“Back in December 2020, it wasn’t a given that everyone was willing to take the vaccine,” says Chan. “Creating a process that was efficient and smooth sailing for citizens was not just for convenience. It was also a matter of building trust with the population for the whole vaccination programme,” she adds.

Designing for inclusion

The booking platform also had to cater for people of all ages and demographics, highlights Chan. The OGP team created a simple system that allows interested individuals to register with as little clicks as possible.

“We rapidly pushed features that were absolutely critical,” says Chan. The entire registration process comprised minimal steps: pre-registration, notification once a slot is available, a quick medical screening, and appointment booking.

Other features to promote inclusion include a responsive web design that can be displayed across all devices, and using identification numbers for registration. The latter feature allows everyone to register for a vaccine even if they are not citizens, Chan explains.

The OGP team also conducted user tests two days prior to their first launch to ensure that seniors, who may be less tech savvy, can use the booking system. Additional features were added based on the feedback gathered.

For instance, the team added other language options for those who did not understand English. Additionally, they clarified instructions on how users can key in their mobile numbers, as the government needed the information to notify individuals when vaccination slots become available.

A separate proxy system allowed others to make an appointment on behalf of those who are less tech savvy, she adds.

The OGP team updates the booking system to adapt to policy updates regarding the vaccination drive. For example, they introduced new fields that allowed adults to make bookings for their children when children were eligible to get vaccinated. They continue to track new developments today to anticipate future changes they may need to make, says Chan.

Other pandemic tools 

Numerous weapons and a strong set of armour are needed for countries to win the war against the Covid-19 pandemic. OGP contributes to these efforts with other tools that help the Singapore government manage life with the virus.

For example, they developed the Covid-19 Management Backbone, a central database and exchange gateway for Covid-19 test and vaccination statuses. It provides consistent data to apps such as TraceTogether, used for contact tracing, and HealthHub, a one-stop citizen health app.

Inconsistent data can affect citizens’ mobility if they are denied entry to locations because organisations cannot confirm their vaccination status, illustrates Chan. The backbone serves as a trusted source of data organisations can rely on, she explains.

Another product, Sync, allows individuals to easily share their Covid-19 records with others. Individuals can access records on Sync, and add recipients they wish to share these records with. Sync is currently in its beta testing phase, and is only available to invited organisations.

The system only requires a one-time consent, allowing recipients of the data to track changes in an individual’s Covid-19 status without the need for manual updates. For instance, test statuses are automatically updated when an individual receives a new test.

Tech is a crucial component aiding countries in the war against the pandemic. Singapore continues to stand firm in its fight against Covid-19 with the support of tech tools like the vaccine booking system and Covid-19 Management Backbone. Other countries too can do the same.