KUALA LUMPUR: There has been a decline in the number of measles cases in Malaysia from 1,958 in 2018 to 1,077 last year.
“However, measles deaths rose from six in 2018 to 15 last year, ” said Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah in a statement yesterday to mark World Immunisation Week (April 24 to April 30).
Dr Noor Hisham said pertussis (whooping cough) cases also increased from 892 in 2018 to 915 last year, while deaths declined from 22 to 20 for the same period.
As for diphtheria cases, it declined slightly, from 18 in 2018 to 16 last year, with six deaths for each respective year.
“The majority of these cases did not receive vaccination.
“There were also cases among infants, who were not old enough to be vaccinated, ” he said.
For WHO and Unicef, measles continues to remain an ever-present threat, especially if vaccination rates drop, with projections indicating that as many as 800,000 people may have been infected with measles last year.
“This year, there are increasing concerns about another resurgence, especially if vaccination rates fall due to delay or suspension of scheduled immunisation activities as a result of Covid-19, ” said WHO and Unicef, adding that the Covid-19 pandemic was a good illustration of how fast an outbreak could spread when communities do not have immunisation.
“While no vaccine exists yet for Covid-19, the world has effective and safe vaccines for other serious and highly contagious diseases like measles, polio or diphtheria.
“In taking appropriate measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19, we must make efforts to ensure that children are up-to-date with their vaccination schedule, ” they said in a joint statement yesterday.
“Globally, the Covid-19 pandemic is overstretching health systems. Health workers are being diverted to support the outbreak response, putting them at risk of illness and death.
“The longer the pandemic continues, the more essential health services, including vaccination services are disrupted, ” they said.
World Immunisation Week aims to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against diseases.
With this year’s theme being #VaccinesWork for All, the campaign will focus on how vaccines – along with the people who develop and deliver them – are heroes in protecting public health.
They pointed out that Sabah is now in urgent need to resume its polio vaccination programme that has been interrupted by the movement control order.
In February, the Health Ministry received 2.5 million doses of polio vaccine that will be delivered to over one million children below 13 years old in the state as part of the polio immunisation campaign following an outbreak of the disease.
“It is crucial that efforts are made to resume and strengthen immunisation activities as soon as physical distancing measures are lifted.
“There are many impacts of Covid-19, including the possible resurgence of diseases that can be prevented with safe and effective vaccines, ” said Dr Lo Ying-Ru, WHO representative for Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore.
WHO maintains that it is essential to ensure access to immunisation services during Covid-19, and that parents should continue to bring their children to be vaccinated against vaccine-preventable diseases.
“WHO urges countries to prioritise the continuation of routine immunisation of children in essential service delivery, as well as vaccinations for groups most at risk.
“If immunisation services must be suspended, urgent catch-up vaccinations should be rescheduled as soon as possible, prioritising those most at risk, ” they said.
Both organisations also said that the impact from Covid-19 has been a painful lesson for the failure to make vaccines universally available.
“The poorest and most marginalised children, who need immunisation the most, continue to be the least likely to get it.
“Most of the unvaccinated children live in remote rural locations or with undocumented, refugee, migrant or stateless families.
“Disease does not discriminate, and neither should interventions. Every child, no matter their status, has the right to be immunised, ” said Marianne Clark-Hattingh, Unicef representative to Malaysia.