The incident that occurred at Merak Primary Health Centre (PHC) in Trashigang on April 23 where a caretaker was accused of administering booster shots to villagers unveils lapses of serious nature at various levels.

Following complaints from the villagers, a team comprising medical officers from Rangjung and Trashigang launched an investigation which established that the complaints were indeed true. The caretaker has administered the booster shots.

But it is what followed the investigation—the termination of the caretaker from his job and withholding salary increment of the two health assistants—that further muddied the water.

The caretaker, who acted on the orders of one of the health assistants, also brings cultural aspects to the argument. He abided by his superior’s orders—to administer booster shots. In our society, even today, going against the wishes and orders of superiors is taboo and frowned upon. Often, many are impelled to act as told to do so by their supervisors and superiors.

The caretaker simply took the orders.

What is clear, even without the aid of laws, is that if anyone should lose his or her job for dereliction of duty, it should be the health assistants at the centre who—in the clear know—asked the caretaker to administer booster shots. 

Fortunately, none of the villagers who took the shot has reported any problem related to the shots they received. But what happened at the health centre that day is a serious lapse and dereliction of duty for which the health assistants should be held wholly accountable.

An official said that the caretaker was terminated as per the contract clause for vaccinating people despite being not certified to do so. As a punishment, the HA who instructed the caretaker to administer the shots has to forfeit the annual increment for three years. The health assistant in-charge of the centre, who was late to work that day, must forgo two years’ annual increment.

We are told that both the health assistants have been warned not to repeat such mistakes in the future. This is not enough. The decision to rest the case here is inviting complacency among health professionals which can be dangerous if not surgically dealt with now. This is not quite a shot in the arm.