The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) just this last week released findings pointing to certain issues, among which was the wastage of Covid-19 vaccines to the tune of RM 505 million.
These vaccines were considered wasted due to the fact that they were now past their expiry dates and had remained unused for the purpose for which they were bought: namely for vaccination and protection of the populace against Covid-19.
The minister for health at the time, Khairy Jamaluddin, has stepped forward to take responsibility for the issue, stating that the buck stops with him. But does it truly? Let’s take a stroll down memory lane to look at things a little closer.
Memories are short in Malaysia, and many have quickly forgotten how desperate the rush was to get vaccinated in 2021. People did everything they could to get the first two doses of vaccine, irrespective of what type of vaccine it was; some travelling and queuing for hours to get injected. Many would remember the thousands who queued outside the mega PPVs such as at the World Trade Centre to get the specific type of vaccine they had chosen.
The success of the government to secure these vaccines despite a global race to do so and a shortage in the global vaccine supply has often been understated and underplayed at times. But they managed to do so, and the ‘rakyat’ did enjoy the tremendous benefits of the lightning speed vaccination programme, overseen by Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah’s team at the ministry of health and the indefatigable Anas Alam Faizli’s team at Protect Health working with the private sector and civil society.
Once the primary two doses had been given to more than 90% of the population, you could see the numbers of deaths and severe illnesses starting to plummet… and that’s when things started changing.
People began to regain confidence and this led them to become more complacent about not only Covid-19, but about the vaccines themselves. There had previously been some murmurs about people having low confidence in the vaccines; and this was not helped by rumour mongers and the small but loud outright anti-vaccine lobby. Their words began to gain some traction among the public, amplified as usual through often ambivalent social media channels including WhatsApp. And with the rate of infections (and deaths) having abated quite a bit, the public very quickly forgot about how things had been without the vaccines.
What then happened was quite interesting. The government, through multiple channels, continued to secure vaccines to ensure that at least most of the population would maintain adequate vaccine protection with booster doses – the right move according to best available evidence at the time. However, the public had other ideas.
Most were ‘bought’ onto the narrative that the same vaccines that had earlier been life-saving were now the cause for deaths – almost everyone continues to allege that some mysterious people have died due to the Covid-19 vaccine.
This incipient loss of trust led to the disinterest among the public in taking subsequent needful booster doses of vaccines which had been prepared by the government but remained unused until they expired recently.
This is one of those sad events where pseudoscience and fake news overtook the truth. Malaysians continue to die of Covid-19 yet it’s something which is no longer of interest to anyone, especially within the news cycle.
Evidence continues to grow on the long-lasting effects of Covid-19 including long-Covid and other devastating effects to individuals who were not adequately vaccinated, yet even the science on this is something many in the general public are happy to refute, without any legitimate evidence supporting their hypothesis though.
I am not, and have never been employed by Khairy Jamaluddin or the ministry of health during his tenure, and really have no conflict of interest in this issue except one.
As a frontliner, I too was afflicted with Covid-19, and that too during the time of the aggressive and lethal Beta wave. I remain alive today due to the singular fact that I had been partially vaccinated at the time.
Thus I remain eternally grateful to the government and the ministry of health who had been instrumental in procuring the vaccines we needed in a timely and efficient manner.
Most importantly, the planning and implementation processes in getting these vaccines into Malaysia were also done in a smart and strategic manner, enabling access to these life-saving vaccines which really did change the game for Malaysia – enabling our population to weather the effects of the pandemic and return quickly to normalcy. Many countries didn’t, suffering innumerable deaths and devastating effects on their economy.
We had the vaccines bought and stored for use, and they expired unused as they fell into disfavour with the public.
So the truth is, while Khairy has done the gentlemanly thing by taking responsibility, it’s not really his fault that the vaccines went to waste. Quite a bit of the blame is ours as well.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.