Mariam Mokhtar: Empty vaccine syringe scandal is about wealth before health

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This is the consequence of over five decades of lack of integrity and corruption in our public service.

The Minister of Health, Adham Baba, does not appear to treat the ’empty syringe’ scandal with the seriousness and immediacy it deserves.

How could anyone know that their vaccine was not sugar water, or saline solution?

The exposé about “empty syringes” will embolden the anti-vaxxers.

The world faces an invisible enemy, Coronavirus, but in Malaysia, the rakyat has three enemies to confront. The virus itself, the politicking and infighting in Putrajaya which has not stopped the spread of Coronavirus, and worst of all, the unscrupulous medical health-workers who withhold vaccines.

Does Adham comprehend that it is not just about getting another jab if one thought one had not received a full dose of the vaccine? He does not reassure us at all.

He should have halted the vaccination program in the particular centre, instituted an enquiry, suspended the staff and taken great pains to reassure Malaysians.

Instead, he treats the empty syringe scandal, like a shopkeeper of a corner-shop grocery store, who tells his disgruntled customer, “Ok-lah, I give you an unopened pack of maggi mee because you said, the other one is empty.”

With the stress and tension to acquire the jab, the long wait, the queue alongside strangers, who could be silent carriers of Coronavirus, the fear of side effects, and for some, the phobia of the injection, who would recollect if the vial they received, was empty or not?

Anyone with half a brain will realise that this scandal is a crime, on many counts.

First. Medical ethics. It is not just about withholding the vaccine and pretending that the jab had been administered. This covers medical ethics and professionalism. The nurse or doctor who tricked the recipient from receiving the full dose should be charged, prosecuted, and dealt the maximum punishment, to act as a deterrent.

Second. Missing vaccine. The government procured the vaccines at great expense, using taxpayers’ money. When it was reported that the vial was empty, what happened to the contents? Is it hoarded in a freezer at the back of the vaccination facility awaiting the exchange of cash from unscrupulous strangers? Many things end up on the black market, why not vaccines? People (and companies) are desperate to be protected, they will pay a good price for the vaccine.

Third. The trust deficit. If corrupt and unscrupulous health workers are prepared to cheat the person who has come to be vaccinated, what does that say about the Malaysian medical system? How can anyone place any faith in the people who are supposed to cure us?  This is the consequence of over five decades of lack of integrity and corruption in our public service.

Fourth. False sense of security. A person may leave the vaccination centre, thinking he was fully protected. Whilst most people are aware that the vaccine does not give 100% protection, why should anyone be left with a false sense of security? This goes against all human values and ethics.

Fifth. Consequences. What happens if the person who thought he had been vaccinated, contracts the disease and falls seriously ill? What if he dies? Will the government compensate the family? The stricken family may have lost a breadwinner, or a parent.

Sixth. Vaccine performance. What about the company which produced the vaccine? People may think that particular vaccine was of no use, when in truth, the vaccine had not been administered at all. The company in question should protest to the Malaysian government and demand an inquiry because its reputation is at stake. Moreover, the experts compiling data from around the world will be horrified that Malaysian statistics are questionable.

Seventh. Inquiry. The suspension of the staff who are complicit in this scandal should have been immediate. This will serve as a warning to others. It will also reassure the public that the ministry is committed to finding the truth. The guilty should be charged, jailed, and given the maximum punishment to act as a deterrent. They should also be barred from working in the medical sector.

Eighth. Deceit. If the guilty health workers are prepared to withhold vaccine from the person who should receive the jab, what’s to stop this health worker from committing other dodgy practices? He could be re-using the needle and syringe. He could be transmitting other communicable diseases like hepatitis or HIV/AIDS from one person to a completely innocent person. We should doubt the corrupt health worker’s integrity and not compromise.

Ninth. Dismissive tone. Adham told the public that “Anyone who has been proven to receive an “empty syringe” will be given a new injection.” Could he explain how one is to prove that one received an “empty syringe”? What is the evidence, especially as one is not allowed to record the jabs being administered? When Malaysians go for vaccination, they expect professionalism and should not need to micro-manage the work of the self-styled experts. For many elderly people, the ignorant and those who have white coat syndrome, the last thing on their minds is to check if the vial is empty or not. The responsibility does not lie with the patient.

Tenth. Tip of the iceberg. If one of the complainants, Tan Wing Sam had not spoken out and lodged a police report, how would the public know about his scandal? We are aware that things like this are almost always covered up, because of the negative publicity. What if Tan had not been aware and subsequently fell ill?

More stories are emerging about vaccine scams and profiteering schemes, such as the forced buying of face masks to enter a vaccination centre. All these will deter people from being vaccinated and this will affect the national vaccination programme.

Adham Baba has clearly failed to demonstrate any leadership. His position is untenable. The buck stops with him. He should resign or be kicked out. – Rebuilding Malaysia