The Covid-19 pandemic showed how vulnerable the elderly are to respiratory diseases.
Like Covid-19, influenza also hits them the hardest, more so if they have pre-existing medical conditions, says Health Deputy Minister I Datuk Dr Noor Azmi Ghazali.
He was speaking at the recent launch of the Preventing the Flu At 65 & Beyond, I Get It Done campaign.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the annual flu shot is one of the best ways to not only protect older adults from severe infection and outcomes caused by influenza viruses, but also contributes towards the healthy ageing journey.
For Kulandasamy Madalamuthu – better known as Martin – every time he has an upper respiratory tract infection, he only takes the medication his doctor recommends and doesn’t consider the possibility that it might be influenza.
The 66-year-old, who recently retired as a supply chain general manager, has heard from many about the side effects of vaccines.
This worries him as he has atherosclerosis, where the blood vessels supplying his heart are blocked, and has undergone angiograms in the past.
“I do worry as I have a lot of friends and people talking about the side effects of vaccines, but, at the end of day, I just take advice from my son who is a doctor, and act accordingly,” he says.
His son, medical officer Dr K. Kelvin Pillai, believes his parents will be better protected if they are vaccinated as they are both old, and thus, in a high-risk group.
“My dad has heart disease, he will definitely benefit more from getting vaccinated as it will protect him.
“The side effects are very mild and the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the mild side effects,” says the 37-year-old.
In addition to their age, most of those 65 years and older tend to have multiple chronic illnesses, which also increases their vulnerability to infections like the flu, he adds.
“In my opinion, those who do not support flu vaccination have very little information on how the vaccine protects and helps.
“If we can give more awareness on the benefits of vaccines, I’m sure more will support this great effort,” he says.
For their health
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme director Judy Chong shares that she already received her flu vaccination in January.
The 65-year-old believes that the vaccination is important for her health as she has high blood pressure.
“I would rather take it than face more complications and higher risk in the future,” she says.
Her son, Terence Kuan, 30, says that he wants his parents vaccinated as they are older and have a weaker immune system.
He adds that they also don’t really live a healthy lifestyle.
He is not too concerned about side effects as both of his parents have taken the flu vaccine before.
However, the warehouse manager believes that the vaccine might not be needed for those who live a healthy lifestyle and have a strong immune system.
“This is a personal preference as every individual has different health needs.
“So I believe that everyone should be well-informed about the vaccine and its benefits, which allows them to make the final decision,” he says.
For sales assistant Imran Kashim Hanafiah, it took a bit of convincing to get his mother Siti Aminah, 69, to take the flu vaccine.
Fortunately, his mother has always been health-conscious, so she eventually agreed to take her son’s advice.
“For me, my mother’s health comes first no matter what.
“As she grows older, it becomes harder for her to fight off diseases.
“This gives me more reason to make sure she gets her vaccine,” says the 25-year-old.
Despite his irregular working hours, Imran ensures that he makes the time to bring his mother for her annual shots, as well as for any doctor’s appointments.
Siti Aminah shares her gratitude for her son who always takes care of her, especially after the passing of her husband a few years ago due to a heart attack.
She was not aware of the flu vaccine or how much it can affect a person’s health, as not much education and awareness was given during her early years.
“I’m lucky to have my son to educate me on my health and what I should do to ensure I stay healthy,” she says.
Siti, who runs her own food stall near her house, shares that she is afraid of catching any virus as she is always around many people, especially customers who visit her stall daily.
“I feel more protected knowing that I have been vaccinated.
“However, I still do my part in making sure I take care of my health and hygiene as much as I can,” she says.
However, Pricilla Vashte, 29, shares that she and her parents aren’t vaccinated against influenza as they do not see the need for it.
“My mum is pretty healthy; however, my dad is a heart patient.
“It definitely worries me a little bit on how his body might react to the vaccine,” she says.
However, the web developer adds that she would have no objections if her parents decide to go for the vaccination.
According to her, the topic is not a “one size fits all” situation, as different people have different opinions on the vaccine.
“There is a general mistrust and fear when it comes to vaccines in general.
“It may be due to lack of information, awareness or understanding.
“People are fearful of what they don’t know and don’t understand.
“Also, over the years, there has been a lot of misinformation, and with the internet, if you don’t factcheck your source, you might be reading fake news,” she says.
Pricilla’s mother, Nancy Satya Prema, 64, has not been vaccinated because she is concerned about how the vaccine might affect her future and that of her children.
“I don’t think the vaccine is important as I believe our body’s natural defence mechanism would be able to help us,” says the homemaker.
Mechanical design engineer Regina Lee, 23, shares that her parents similarly refuse to take the vaccine due to fear of the side effects.
They believe that they are too old to take the flu vaccine, and that influenza can be treated like the common cold with the appropriate medicine and rest.
And they too believe that their immune system is able to fight the virus on its own.
“I personally think that it is good to be vaccinated because the vaccine helps to boost immunity towards the virus.
“I believe that prevention is better than a cure.
“However, I do not wish to force my parents to take the vaccine if they refuse to,” she says.
Her father, Roger Lee, notes that influenza has been around for a long time.
The 68-year-old insurance manager believes that most of us have had the virus at least once, so we should have some natural immunity towards it.