Vaccinations - a vital line of defence


ON June 18, 2016, seven-year-old K. Durgasini passed away. Her cause of death? Bacterial diphtheria.

Then on June 22, a two-year-old boy from Kuala Muda was admitted to Sultan Abdul Halim Hospital along with six siblings for suspected diphtheria.

Of the seven siblings, four children were not immunised against diphtheria - including the deceased two-year-old.

Back then, I had a glimmer of hope that these would be the last cases of preventable diphtheria I'd see.

A naive hope, perhaps - but I believed that these tragedies would get parents to do the right thing and vaccinate their children.

However, this was not to be as a two-year-old child from Johor Baru who was not immunised passed away on Feb 21 this year, and the child's death was due to diptheria.

Since then, the Health Ministry has said that misinformation about vaccination had led to a huge jump in the number of vaccine-preventable diseases, with cases of measles jumping over 10-fold from 2013 to  last year.

It also said that a lack of immunisation was detected last year in all six measles deaths recorded and in 19 of the 22 deaths from whooping cough (pertussis).

So yes, after reading all this, you're going to hear me say the same thing I said in June 2016 - that parents need to immunise their children to prevent utterly avoidable tragedies like this.

And once again, I'm going to urge you to do more than just take my word for it and listen to experts like paediatrician and neonatologist Datuk Dr Musa Nordin, especially if you've yet to keep your kids up to date on their vaccinations because of doubts about vaccines.

On the issue of vaccines causing autism - especially the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine - Dr Musa said in a TV Al-Hijrah talk show that no study has been able to replicate what was claimed by Andrew Wakefield linking the vaccine to autism

"Autism is a disorder that is strongly linked to genetics. In the case of identical twins, if one has autism the chance that the other twin is also autistic is as high as 90% because they share the same genetic material. There is no relation whatsoever with the mercury or aluminium used in vaccines," added Dr Musa.

At this point I'll just put in my own thoughts and ask parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids because of these fears if they think that autism is so bad that they'll rather their kids be dead than autistic?

Now, returning to Dr Musa, he also shared his observations about the anti-vaccine information online.

"In the hierarchy of information, right at the top are randomised control studies and at the bottom are testimonials, or anecdotal evidence. Much of the anti-vaccine information online is anecdotal and we cannot use this because the evidence is insufficient," said Dr Musa

Additionally, he urged people to be careful when going online to look for information on vaccines

" If you google 'vaccines', 60% of what you'll find are anti-vaccine websites and many of them go on excessively about adverse effects following immunisation. That is why the World Health Organisation and Unicef have come out with a website with information," said Dr Musa.

He added that the website is called the Vaccine Safety Net Project at https://www.vaccinesafetynet.org/ and said that it addresses any information about adverse effects.

Dr Musa then spoke of another critical reason why people should be vaccinated, and that is to prevent the spread of diseases that would otherwise be contained if people were vaccinated.

"In 2015, an unvaccinated child went to Disneyland and caught the measles. It then spread to 20 states, north to Canada and south to Mexico. In Malaysia, we had 195 cases in 2013. In 2018, we had over 1,900 cases," he said.

This is also something touched on by the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, which also put forward an argument in favour of vaccination through their Vaccine Knowledge Project.

"For example, if someone with measles is surrounded by people who are vaccinated against measles, the disease cannot easily be passed on to anyone, and it will quickly disappear again. This is called 'herd immunity' or 'community immunity', and it gives protection to vulnerable people such as newborn babies, elderly people and those who are too sick to be vaccinated," said the Project.

So yes, I am completely for vaccinations and I am totally in support of any proposal to make immunisation mandatory.

As it stands, there have been too many preventable deaths already and Malaysians need to step up, heed the evidence-based science and do something before it's too late.

Can we do it? If you ask me, we have to. It's the right thing to do. One death is one too many.

Tan Yi Liang

Tan Yi Liang

Tan Yi Liang believes that people have more positive power in their hands than they realise. He wants to prove this - and challenge readers by speaking to experts, and getting right "In Your Face".