LATELY, the issue of whether to vaccinate or not one’s child has been rift in Malaysia’s newspapers. The matter has become a matter of public health concern following the rising deaths rate. According to the Ministry of Health, the total number of diphtheria cases nationwide stood at 15, of which five had been fatal. Thus far there have been seven cases in Kedah resulting in one death, three cases in Melaka and one death, four cases in Sabah with three deaths and one case in Negeri Sembilan. All these cases were not confined to children but also adults with other ailments, who were affected. On 17 July Malaysia experienced its first adult diphtheria case in Rembau, Negeri Sembilan.
Since these cases, the Health Ministry is urging parents to get their children vaccinated particularly for those whose children have missed immunization and vaccination dosages according to the present schedule set by the ministry. In a move to create even greater awareness, the Health Ministry is also roping in the Ministry of Education to hold discussions on how to link the national immunization programme with the education system. Main objective is to have immunization screening in schools in order to detect those who missed getting the vaccine. Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam has stated that the ministry is currently adopting a persuasive approach with advice and information for the parents about the importance of immunization and would leave it to the parents to decide based on the information provided.
On its part, the Health Ministry has striven to engage the public by educating them on the gravity of matter. It is trying to eliminate the number of cases and create as much public awareness on the issue of immunization and vaccination. Thus, it now falls on parents to heed the ministry’s call to protect their children’s health. Markedly, the Health Ministry is acutely aware that the incidence of refusing vaccination is higher among the Malay/Muslim population. It reported that 1,500 parents had refused vaccination from the ministry. As such a part of its efforts the Health Ministry has enlisted the help of Jabatan Kemajuan Islam Malaysia (JAKIM) to lend its support to advice from the religious aspect.
There are calls to make immunization and vaccination mandatory. Scientific evidence has shown that vaccination against diphtheria and other preventable diseases are lifesavers. The benefits of vaccines and immunization far outweigh the risks particularly since diseases can spread rapidly. Viruses and bacteria that cause illness and death still exist in Malaysia and can be passed to those who are not protected by vaccines. It is for this very reason that if parents truly love and care for their children they should be immunized. Prevention is better than cure! How many more children should die due to parents ignorance and stupidity?