KUALA LUMPUR: Misinformation about vaccines has caused a huge spike in vaccine-preventable diseases, with almost a 1,000% increase in the number of measles cases compared to five years ago.
The Health Ministry said the exponentially increase in vaccine-preventable infectious diseases in the country was primarily due to misinformation about vaccines being spread on social media.
According to the Health Minstry, the number of measles cases jumped exponentially from 195 cases in 2013 to 1,934 cases last year.
Last year, there six deaths related to measles and none of the victims were immunised.
There were also five deaths from diphtheria where four of the victims did not receive immunisation.
There were 22 deaths from whooping cough (pertussis) where 19 victims had no vaccination.
Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said that from its monitoring efforts on social media, the influence of the anti-vaccine crowd was increasing.
"These irresponsible actions pose a challenge to the ministry's efforts and as a result, vaccine-preventable infectious diseases are on the rise," he said in a statement on Tuesday (Jan 22).
He said immunisation could prevent these diseases and reduce complications that could lead to death.
The World Health Organisation has identified vaccine rejection as one of the global health threats for 2019, he said.
"There are groups and individuals who are influencing the general public to reject vaccines by spreading wrong and unfounded information.
"This is spread by those obsessed with claims that vaccinations and the government's National Immunisation Programme are of no benefit and have many negative effects.
"That claim is inaccurate," said Dr Noor Hisham.
The number of vaccine rejections recorded in government clinics increased from 637 cases in 2013 to 1,603 cases in 2016 but there was a slight reduction in 2017 – 1,404 cases – following the ministry's widespread advocacy efforts made in collaboration with the private sector and medical social media volunteers, said Dr Noor Hisham.
"If this vaccine rejection trend continues, there is a likelihood that infectious diseases that could be prevented by vaccines will continue to increase and all efforts will be futile," he said.