The vaccine stimulates the body’s immune system to develop antibodies against a specific pathogen to prevent a specific infectious disease.
Active immunity can also be developed following exposure to antigens or pathogens naturally via infection. But natural infection puts children and other high risk group persons (the elderly, immunocompromised persons, and patients with chronic diseases) at risk of serious complications from the disease.
Vaccines provide protection that is as good as natural immunity, without the risk of developing severe complications due to the infection.
When the vaccination rate is high in a community, it prevents outbreak of infectious diseases and creates herd immunity which indirectly protects those who are not eligible for certain vaccination (young infants and immunocompromised persons such as cancer patients and those with congenital or acquired immunodeficiency).
Vaccines are generally safe as its creation and production would have undergone complex and highly-regulated processes. Vaccines are tested rigorously in multiple large clinical trials involving thousands of people to ensure its efficacy and safety before being approved by the Drug Control Authority and marketed commercially. There is ongoing monitoring of the safety of vaccines worldwide.
Some parents worry that their child’s immune system would be overwhelmed with so many vaccines administered. The fact is, our immune system is always exposed to different and multiple pathogens in our surroundings. It is capable of responding to multiple antigens from vaccines.
While most children show no adverse reaction to vaccines, some develop mild fever, redness, pain, rashes, and swelling on the injection site. Serious cases of seizure and anaphylaxis are rare. There are only few absolute contraindications and precautions which might increase the chance of severity of adverse reaction or compromise the ability of the vaccine to produce immunity.
Every country has its own national immunisation programme (www.myhealth.gov.my/en/immunisation-schedule/) for its people. Parents need to ensure that their children receive on time all the vaccines in the programme. Vaccination is given free at government clinics.
Besides the recommended vaccines in the programme, there are optional vaccines for pneumococcal disease, rotavirus, chicken pox, menigococcal, typhoid, Japanese encephalitis, influenza and human papillomavirus, among others.
As global travel is common, travellers may carry with them infectious pathogens. Hence, it is wise to consider optional vaccination for yourself and your children.
There is also vaccination recommended for adults and the elderly (https://immunise4life.my/).
The National Fatwa Council (www.e-fatwa.gov.my) has declared that vaccination is permissible.
– By Dr Liew Pei Sze, consultant paediatrician and neonatologist