In the wake of reports over the weekend that the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC) has given a member of staff the equivalent to 5 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine due to human error, it is notable that none of the senior members of Government has addressed this mistake publicly.
In addition, the error was apparently made on 14 Jan which begs the question of why it took so long for the public to be informed?
To make matters, worse, it seems like the wife of our Prime Minister, Madam Ho Ching (Madam Ho) has attempted to defend such mistakes on her Facebook page.
Among other things, Madam Ho has said “When you have mass exercises like vaccination, it is easy to make mistakes. We are human after all.” While mistakes are understandable and sometimes unavoidable, it seems completely tone-deaf to dismiss this error when the various relevant ministers have not even spoken up on the issue.
If the mistake was made on her husband, would she be so sanguine?
While the medical director of SNEC, Professor Wong Tien Yin has apologised for the incident, saying that it has done a “thorough review” of its internal processes and has taken steps to ensure that such lapses do not happen again, it seems odd that the relevant ministers have remained quiet on this issue.
It bears remembering that we have a Multi-Agency Taskforce to manage all things COVID-19 related. This task force is co-chaired by Minister for Health, Gan Kim Yong (Gan), and former Minister for National Development (and current Minister for Education), Lawrence Wong (Wong).
Given that the vaccination exercise falls within the ambit of the taskforce, why have neither Wong nor Gan issued a public statement? Surely, it falls within their ministerial portfolios and ambits to reassure the public and be accountable for mistakes? Why hasn’t there been a press conference where both Wong and Gan are available to answer questions on this error?
Collectively, are Madam Ho, Gan and Wong trying to deflect from the mistakes that have been made?
While the Ministry of Health (MOH) has said that clinical trial data from Pfizer-BioNTech has indicated that receiving more than the recommended dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is unlikely to be harmful, shouldn’t Gan, as head of MOH be fronting such a statement as opposed to a generic statement from the ministry?
At the end of the day, the crux of the issue is not about the fact that a mistake has been made. Rather, it is a case of how that mistake has been dealt with.
The vaccination process involves all Singaporeans and is most definitely a public interest issue. The fact that the Government took nearly a month to disclose the occurrence of this mistake is in itself a red flag. The deafening silence of both Gan and Wong only serves to cause further disquiet. Madam Ho now chiming in to seemingly dismiss the enormity of the error is surely adding insult to injury.
The lateness of disclosure, the lack of proper ownership from those in charge and the apparent attempt to dismiss the enormity of the error could create the impression that those in power are hoping to sweep the matter under the carpet.