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The Importance of Vaccination Among Children

11/Feb/2020

Getting immunised is important to protect yourself and to protect those around you. Vaccination in Malaysia is scheduled by the Ministry of Health for the safety of the population. The Malaysian vaccination schedule for babies is provided as a guideline for parents and physicians to follow.

As not everyone is able to get vaccinated (pregnant women, immunocompromised individuals, infants) having the majority of the population vaccinated against a disease lends protection to the unvaccinated in what is called herd immunity. In order to prevent major disease outbreak, it is thus vital for governments and individuals to ensure the community is vaccinated against otherwise fatal diseases.

There are no proven or validated studies or correlations to vaccines causing chronic illness or autism, and Malaysia has mandatory vaccine programmes administered to children under 15 years old in public schools.

Malaysia has a well-established national immunisation programme (NIP) which started in the 1950s, and this has kept the rates of many infectious diseases low. Malaysia and other ASEAN countries  have been free from polio since the year 2000, and this monumental achievement was made possible with a consistent immunisation programme. Malaysia has maintained a very high rate of vaccination, with over 90% of infants and young children receiving their vaccinations under the NIP.


The vaccination coverage of most childhood vaccines in Malaysia is between 94 and 98%. Ironically, while one would assume that children in remote rural areas are the ones falling off the radar, there appears to be a growing number of urban children who are not being immunised.

 

According to official statistics, the number of parents refusing to immunise their children has tripled in the last three years, from 470 to 1,282. They have largely been influenced by anti-vaccination groups (who blame vaccines for a range of health problems), opting instead for traditional or alternative medicine for their children.

 

Malaysia has achieved low levels of vaccine-preventable diseases (VPD) for diseases such as diphtheria and neonatal tetanus, but that does not mean these diseases have disappeared completely. Many of the viruses and bacteria are still circulating in this country and that is why it is important that children, especially infants and young children, receive the recommended immunisations on time.

The majority of the younger generation has not seen cases of childhood vaccine-preventable diseases such as polio, pertussis and diphtheria, but since people travel a lot nowadays, including to and from countries where many VPD are relatively common, it posed a risk to children who were not immunised.

VPD are prevented through herd immunity, meaning a large proportion (more than 95%) of the population are protected against the diseases. This will halt the transmission of the bacteria or viruses. However, when herd immunity is disrupted, for example when there is an influx of unvaccinated children in the area or many people refuse vaccines, then the number of VPD will rise.

Even though generally we acknowledge the contributions of traditional and complementary medicine like homeopathy to the healthcare of the people, it is advisable for the public to seek appropriate medical treatment and make informed healthcare decisions. For the uninitiated, vaccination is not practised in homeopathic medicine, as such the Malaysian Homeopathic Medical Council has continuously stressed that the administration of vaccines, as scheduled by the Ministry, must be carried out.

Immunisation is important to prevent diseases which can lead to unnecessary illnesses, disabilities and deaths among children. With the growing trend in the use of social media, we need to increase efforts through social media to convey the importance of vaccinating children.

So how do vaccines work? Vaccines work by introducing a weakened or dead form of infection, known as the antigen. In some vaccines, the antibody (the product of the immune system which helps the body fights antigen) is introduced. The introduction of the vaccine allows the body to create antibodies against a particular type of antigen / infection, which means upon actual exposure to the antigen, the body is able to fight the infection quickly and without succumbing to the illness.

Apart from public hospitals and clinics, parents can bring their children for vaccination at private hospitals such as KPJ Hospital, Pantai Hospital, Gleneagles Hospital, Columbia Asia Hospital, Tung Shin Hospital, Subang Jaya Medical Centre, Sunway Medical Centre and many others. These private hospitals and their branches are located in most major cities nationwide.

Parents Who Refuse Vaccination

It is also necessary to make a distinction between parents who refuse vaccination and those who are anti-vaccination. Parents who refuse vaccination do not equate to parents who are anti-vaccination. The Ministry is collecting this information from our health clinics to better understand the situation.

Among the reasons for the increasing number of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children, is the influence of the Internet and family members. Apart from a lack of understanding of the importance of immunisation to keep children safe, there is a vast amount of information in the media and parents may not know what is right and what to believe as there is much confusion arising from contradictory information in the public domain.

For example, an article in the media states ‘Obtaining natural immunity has far greater benefits than vaccine-induced immunity’. This is true, but the article does not tell the reader all the facts. Natural immunity carries a higher risk of complications and debilitating conditions from the disease than getting immunity from the vaccine. The omission of important information can sway the parents into refusing to allow their child to be vaccinated.

Parents are also unaware of the dangers and complications of the 10 VPD listed in the National Immunisation Schedule for children under 5. The diseases are tuberculosis, hepatitis B, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, Haemophilus influenza type B, measles, mumps and rubella. Without vaccination, epidemics of many VPD could return.

Among the reasons given by anti-vaccine groups include doubts about the content of vaccines, fear of side effects and the belief that traditional or homeopathic medicine should not be mixed with modern medicine.

The Ministry has stringent procedures that must be followed before vaccines or drugs are registered for use in this country. The animal-derived content of all products, including vaccines, need to be declared. When the Ministry chooses vaccines, it ensures that they are free of porcine elements.

For the record, the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) has declared that vaccination is harus (permissible), according to the principle of Maqasid Syariah, as it prevents dangerous diseases such as measles, tuberculosis, whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus and polio that threaten the lives and health of children. At the same time, JAKIM is cautious in giving the harus status. For instance the vaccine for rotavirus has not been approved as harus.

Above all, immunisation has saved countless lives from infectious diseases, and every year, the World Health Organization (WHO) dedicates the last week of April to celebrate World Immunisation Week. This celebration is aimed at promoting the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against infectious diseases.

It also celebrates the victories that immunisation has achieved, and the fact that immunisation is one of the world’s most successful and cost-effective means of saving lives. It acts as a reminder that vaccination should not be taken for granted just because we do not see these vaccine-preventable diseases now.

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