As mothers and fathers, we cannot help but feel afraid for our children at this time.
We are living amid the Covid-19 pandemic that has swept across the world like wildfire.
No doubt, this is a defining global health crisis of our time.
Like the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and A(H1N1) influenza pandemics that came before, Covid-19 is a viral infection that attacks the respiratory system.
It is highly infectious, develops rapidly and can kill by causing pneumonia in both lungs, as well as restricting oxygen absorption.
We worry over the rising number of Covid-19 cases throughout the world.
The call to “flatten the curve” is enough to persuade us to obey the Government’s movement control order (MCO) and quietly stay at home.
We practise physical distancing when venturing outside for an unavoidable trip to the shops for groceries and needs, or to work.
Unfortunately, fear of Covid-19 has also caused some parents to stop or delay bringing their babies or children to the clinic for their immunisation shots.
They may be asking: “Are clinics safe? Will there be Covid-19 patients there?
“Is there a risk of catching the disease from the nurse or doctor?”
It is understandable to have these questions swirling in our mind.
However, we should also be asking, “Is it more risky to miss baby’s immunisation?”
The answer is a resounding “Yes!”
Currently, vaccination under the National Immunisation Programme protects children from 12 serious, but vaccine-preventable, diseases.
These include tuberculosis, hepatitis B, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, Haemophilus influenzae B, measles, mumps, rubella, Japanese encephalitis, and various cancers caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).
All the vaccines, except HPV, need to be given within the first 18 months of life.
It is important that baby receives all the doses required for each vaccine at the right times in order to be fully protected from these infectious diseases.
Delaying or skipping any of the vaccines on the immunisation schedule can leave baby vulnerable and defenceless against the multitude of germs intent on infecting baby’s body.
This is why Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah issued a statement advising parents not to put off their babies’ immunisation.
He said that public maternal and child health clinics are open as usual to serve our children’s immunisation needs.
Health Ministry Family Health Development Division senior principal assistant director Dr Rozita Ab Rahman shared a few insights and tips on how parents can safely and confidently bring their babies to the clinic.
She said: “First and foremost, parents need to adhere to their baby’s immunisation appointments.
“We have arranged staggered appointments for all our patients. We urge you to arrive on time, at the appointed time.
“Your cooperation will enable the staff to space out all visits and avoid crowding.
“Before making the trip to the clinic, be sure to bring along baby’s immunisation record book.”
She went on to explain that, as a precautionary measure, healthcare workers will conduct a general screening on both parents and baby.
“Once you arrive at the clinic, the staff will take your temperature at the triage counter.
“They will also ask if your baby or you are having any symptoms of influenza-like illness (ILI, such as fever, runny nose, cough or sore throat) and shortness of breath.
“In addition, they will enquire whether you have returned from abroad recently or have been in contact with any Covid-19 patients. Please answer truthfully during this screening.
“Any patient showing symptoms will be directed to a designated area for further screening and treatment.
“However, if you pass the screening stage, you will be permitted to enter the clinic.
“Disinfect your hands with sanitiser. If you did not bring any yourself, feel free to use the hand sanitisers that are available.
“Please observe physical distancing at least 1m from the nearest patient while awaiting your turn.
“Only one person – either the mother or the father – will be allowed to bring baby into the vaccination room.
“This keeps the number of people present to the minimum and prevents congestion.
“Baby will still receive the usual high-quality, personalised care and attention.
“However, time spent in the clinic will be kept to a minimum. Parents and their babies should come in, get the jab and go.”
Dr Rozita added that health clinic staff also implement a number of precautionary measures to further minimise the risk of spreading Covid-19.
These include wearing personal protective equipment at all times, consisting of a face mask, gloves and an apron (with or without face shields).
They also use hand sanitisers frequently and maintain good personal hygiene at all times.
She said: “In any case, parents will be comforted to know that not all health clinics conduct sampling for detection of Covid-19. Only certain clinics are involved.”
Make a new appointment
Dr Rozita encouraged parents who have missed their children’s scheduled immunisations during the MCO to call their respective health clinics and make a fresh appointment.
She advised those who are still outstation to bring their children to any nearby public health clinic for their immunisation shots.
She concluded: “We are worried about the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases if children are not immunised on time.
“So, we hope that parents will not delay or stop bringing their babies to the clinics.
“We should take advantage of the protection that immunisation can provide and keep our children safe from vaccine-preventable diseases that are also dangerous.”
Consultant paediatrician and paediatric cardiologist Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail also encourages parents to follow the immunisation schedule despite the ongoing MCO.
The Immunise4Life programme chairman said, “The World Health Organization (WHO) recently issued a statement warning that disruption to routine immunisation activities, even for a short period of time, will raise the likelihood of outbreak-prone, vaccine-preventable diseases.
“These include measles, diphtheria, pertussis and so on.”
According to him, the Health Ministry’s decision to continue providing routine immunisation services during the MCO is in line with WHO’s recommendations.
After all, local transmission of Covid-19 in our country is still under control and our health system capacity remains intact.
“However, if parents wish, they have the option of taking their children to a private clinic for immunisation,” he said.
Both Dr Rozita and Dr Zulkifli agreed that while it is important to stop the spread of Covid-19, it is equally crucial to continue protecting our children from vaccine-preventable diseases.
This article is courtesy of the Health Ministry’s Immunise4Life programme, the Malaysian Paediatric Association and the Malaysian Society of Infectious Diseases & Chemotherapy, supported by the Vaccination is Protection for Kids initiative. For more information, email email@example.com.