Health authorities should convene dedicated online public forum for medical professionals, not dismissing alternate perspectives: Dr Tan Cheng Bock

Singapore’s health authorities should consider convening a dedicated online public forum for medical professionals to raise topics of concern, not dismissing every alternate perspective as an attempt to “spread misinformation”, said chairman of the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) Dr Tan Cheng Bock on Wednesday (30 Jun).

Dr Tan is a retired doctor, who served 50 years in the profession and opened his first clinic – Ama Keng Clinic – in 1971. He is also a former People’s Action Party Member of Parliament and candidate in the Presidential Election 2011.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, the politician cited two articles published by The Straits Times (ST) on 17 June and 29 June, noting that parts of these reports appear to be “overly dismissive” of the doctors who raised concerns about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines.

The first article, entitled “Trending COVID-19 claims: Fact or Fiction?”, debunked four claims link to the COVID-19 vaccines – the mRNA vaccines can alter human DNA, COVID-19 vaccines can weaken the body’s natural immune system, various side effects of the vaccines, and the ivermectin’s efficacy against COVID-19.

Whereas the second article, entitled “MOH, NCID expert counter claims by doctors on need to halt COVID-19 jabs for schoolboys”, was regarding the expert committee and the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) rebuttal of claims by a group of doctors behind an open letter arguing for a halt in the vaccination of young people.

While Dr Tan acknowledged that the health authorities play an important role to dispel “myths” and “conspiracy theories” that appear to emanate from professional sources, he believes that the authorities need not be “dismissive” or “arrogant” when opposing their views.

“How you say things is as important as what you say. Trusted sources of information can better win over opposing views if they do not come across as dismissive or arrogant. After all, a gentle answer turns away wrath,” he wrote.

Medical professionals holding non-mainstream views may not have opportunities to consider relevant data, and some may even be plainly wrong, but they were “care enough” to raise concerns “out of a sense of obligation to their medical oath”, said Dr Tan.

He noted that doctors should be able to voice their concerns in a welcoming space like a public forum, and be robustly rebutted if necessary.

“If they do not have any public forum to ventilate these concerns, if they do not feel that they can be heard, if the only response they get from health authorities and local experts is scorn and ridicule, then we run the risk of driving these views underground. And then there will be no more conversation,” said the politician.

Dr Tan called on the health authorities to consider convening an online public forum dedicated to medical professionals, as he observed that newspaper columns may not be the best platforms for them to exchange scientific opinions.

“Not every alternate perspective should be dismissed as an attempt to spread misinformation or conspiracy theories. Medical professionals deserve a safe and welcoming space to discuss these issues so that alternate views receive a fair hearing, and if necessary, be robustly rebutted,” he added.

Dr Tan concluded his post by emphasising the need for health professionals to work together and help to address the current national crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A top down approach is not the most helpful in dispelling questions. But with open, respectful discussions, we can – together, build trust and confidence for the way ahead,” he remarked.

NCID’s Associate Professor claimed doctors behind the open letter “misleading” the public

Earlier on 28 June, the Ministry of Health (MOH) stated that the Expert Committee on COVID-19 Vaccination is aware of an open letter made by a group of doctors calling for Singapore to halt its vaccination programme for youths following the death of a 13-year-old in the United States.

It was reported that the 10-year-old American boy passed away just a few days after receiving his second dose of COVID-19 jab in the United States. However, it is unclear which type of vaccination was given to the boy.

The open letter, which was posted by a doctor named Dr Kho Kwang Po on Facebook on 27 June, was addressed to the chairman of the Expert Committee, Professor Benjamin Ong.

The letter was said to have been written “on behalf of many concerned paediatricians, primary care physicians, specialists, surgeons and GPs”, requesting for a temporary stop in Singapore’s vaccination drive until the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as other organisations around the world, have come up with more robust and convincing data on the case.

It was signed by Dr Kho, Dr Wong Wui Min, a cardiologist and heart specialist at W.M. Wong Cardiac and Medical Clinic in Gleneagles Hospital, Dr A.M. Chia, Dr L.W. Ping, as well as Dr I.W. Yang.

Responding to this, MOH pointed out that the social media post noted that the American boy died from heart failure, even though no cause of death has been made public and the case is currently under investigation by the US authorities.

“The post also highlighted the recent international reports of the association between myocarditis and dose 2 of the mRNA vaccines in young men,” it added.

NCID’s Associate Professor David Lye also took to Facebook on the same day, noting that it is “the same small group of doctors” who were once again “misleading and misinforming the public”, noting that three of the doctors were involved in “an infamous letter by the group of 12”.

Prof Lye was referring to an earlier letter published by 12 doctors calling for children to be given the traditional vaccines, such as the Sinovac one, instead of the mRNA ones, as they claimed that it was not known what side effects from these vaccines might surface 10 to 20 years later.

“They made up their own story about the unfortunate death of a child in US; the report did not say anything about heart failure and stated that investigation into the cause is under way,” he said.

Prof Lye also said that the doctors who had signed the open letter do not represent the majority of doctors and that they should reveal their “true motive” in repeatedly calling to stop mRNA vaccinations.

“They don’t tell you what may happen if Delta variant sweeps through our children in massive outbreaks and overwhelms our hospitals; see peer-reviewed meta-analysis of 129 studies from 31 countries involving >10,000 children where reported rates of intensive care admission 22.9% and death occurred in 3.6%,” he added.

Speaking to ST, Dr Paul Yang, the author behind the letter, noted that he will not retract the letter and proceeded to call for the second dose to be halted until the CDC’s investigations on the American boy were concluded.

“The US CDC’s recommendations are suitable for the situation there, given that the virus is spreading rapidly. But Singapore has had the infection under control,” said Dr Yang, a general practitioner.

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