MARCH 3 ― Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) believes that the commercialisation of the Covid-19 vaccination by the private hospitals would only encourage “queue-cutting” where the rich and powerful stands to gain and potentially undermine the government's national programme and weakens social solidarity.
Furthermore, allowing private hospitals to procure vaccines and subsequently running their own vaccination programme also contradicts the principles of giving everyone an equal opportunity in the country’s largest vaccination programme ever.
If the covid-19 virus has demonstrated a truth so well, it is that the virus is class-free. Thus, the rich and the privileged should banish any idea that they can use their wealth to buy privilege by jumping the vaccination queue. The vaccine is in short supply and most poor countries do not even have access to any vaccines.
The Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia (APHM) has lamented the long duration of government’s programme, which is expected to end in February 2022, as a justification for the private sector to intervene to speed up the country’s immunisation process. Yet Suaram has also noted how the private hospitals at the beginning of the pandemic have been extremely reluctant to offer any assistance in terms of hospital beds or personnel to the government when Malaysia was grappling with the Covid-19 crisis throughout 2020.
The private hospitals’ involvement in battling the Covid-19 was only confined to providing limited private beds for a small number of Covid-19 patients. Moreover, even the Covid-19 testing provided by the private hospitals came with an exorbitant cost and the private hospitals are most likely to shift their patients who are tested positive to their public counterparts. In fact, the role played by the private sector in containing the pandemic has been very minimal.
Therefore, Suaram has reasons to be sceptical about the sudden change of heart from the private sectors wanting to participate in the vaccination programme especially when the government’s very own vaccination has only just begun.
With the Covid-19 vaccine currently in short supply around the world, further commercialization of the vaccines would only raise the price of any vaccines available, thus rendering the vaccine even more inaccessible to the poor or vulnerable. While many ordinary Malaysians may only be receiving their vaccination under the third phase of the vaccination programme, we also must consider that those who will be vaccinated under first or second phase are mostly Covid-19 high-risk groups and with the limited vaccines available means they should be prioritized if Malaysia is determined to reduce Covid-19 deaths and containing the virus.
We should not disregard the fact that the phases of the vaccination programme were explicitly designed to prioritise high risk individuals and ensuring that almost all Malaysians are guaranteed of a shot of vaccination with no cost incurred. Private hospitals should instead volunteer their premises as additional vaccination points to speed up the government’s free vaccination programme.
As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has made it clear, everyone has the right to medical care, and this is more so when the world is mired in a pandemic crisis. And if there is a lesson the pandemic has taught us: it is that public health does not respect privilege and Malaysians regardless of race, religion, wealth, or status are all in this together.
Allowing private hospitals to make money by vaccinating queue jumpers is not an option.