Heads must roll over COVID-19 vaccine wastages

Letter to editor

IT is timely that Health Director-General (DG) Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah (main pic) should come clean on the COVID-19 vaccine wastage, especially after six million vaccine doses were left unused, and some had to be destroyed after expiry.

The public is interested to know how much of this is translated in ringgit and sen. It appears to me that we are not only suffering from pilferage but also a lot of wastage in government spending which does not benefit the rakyat.

As the man helming the Health Ministry (MOH), Dr Noor Hisham can no longer blame it on the ministers in the past or even the present Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa for his own failure as the Health DG, a highly paid position.

His job is supposed to safeguard public health and protect all Malaysians against the spread of COVID-19. It makes me wonder if this is even an attempt to conceal the information or sheer negligence on the part of the MOH.

Blame game

The public would not take this lightly every time the blame game happens. When something goes wrong, it is because of someone else’s fault – the public in this case for refusing to take the vaccine.

Frankly, when this happens in the corporate sector, Dr Noor Hisham being equivalent of a CEO, has to bear the entire blame as he has a heavy responsibility himself to bear.

If I may put it, this is sheer failure on his part to monitor the stock and their expiry dates, and plan the next course of action to ensure that people’s health is protected against COVID-19.

In the worst-case scenario, the vaccines should be made available to states like Selangor that wanted it badly. Or at least, it should be made available to all foreign workers whom I believe have yet to receive their vaccination.

What makes me curious about the latest newsbreak is that over the past six months, I do not remember any campaign initiated by the MOH to encourage booster vaccination.

My last booster was in the month of June last year and that was the last that I heard about the booster programme.

The only thing I remember was that there were several cases of COVID-19 in the Parliament which caused some panic and chaos, hence prompting MOH officials to swing into action.

This certainly raises the question whether the officers were already told to be on standby for the signal to enter Parliament and force the parliamentary seating to be adjourned.

But when it comes to such a huge amount of wastage, where was the urgency to fully use the vaccines? Dr Noor Hisham should know better that he cannot quote wastages in other countries because such wastages as far as we are concerned, are unacceptable.

What if Anwar had swept it under the carpet?

Why did it take Prime Minister Datuk Anwar Ibrahim to finally highlight this before we come to know about the unused vaccine doses?

So, why did Dr Noor Hisham not sound this out earlier? Silence is not golden when public funds are utilised to purchase these vaccines.

This is not the first-time incident such as this has happened with government agencies and ministries. Through the years, we have read reports by the accountant-general’s office regarding the incurrence of huge wastages, but no actions were taken against public servants who were responsible for these wastages.

Former prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin receives Malaysia’s first COVID-19 vaccine shot on Feb 24, 2021 (Pic credit: Department of Information)

In my opinion, Dr Noor Hisham should bear the brunt as he is the head of the ministry which he has helmed for so many years. While millions were being used to buy these vaccines, our public hospitals complain of lack of funds to purchase reagents to carry out blood tests.

When complaints were lodged, the response was always the same: “No budget.” Even when this was highlighted to Dr Noor Hisham personally, nothing was done to resolve the issue.

One does not need a medical doctor because even an average Malaysian understands the meaning of expiry date. They would want to check if the vaccines purchased more than a year ago have reached the expiry date. And every effort would be made to ensure that it is fully utilised before the vaccines reach expiry date.

I wonder what would happen if Anwar had not revealed such news himself. Would the MOH or Dr Noor Hisham just allow these vaccines to be destroyed altogether?

In his frequent reports about the number of cases, Dr Noor Hisham should at least make it a point to urge people to get their booster shots or make it available for the public.

Does he know that one of his many responsibilities as the Health DG is to be proactive instead of just reporting the COVID-19 figures which could have been done by the MOH’s public relations officer? Or was he waiting for the next minister to call the shot? – Jan 5, 2023


Stephen Ng
Kuala Lumpur

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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