COMPULSORY vaccination of children is a contentious issue.
The Health Ministry is studying proposals and calls to make vaccination compulsory, following the death of a two-year-old boy from diphtheria in Johor Baru on Feb 21. The boy had never been immunised. Five more children, who were reported to have been in contact with the victim, were also confirmed positive for diphtheria and quarantined at the Sultanah Aminah Hospital JB.
Reluctance to vaccinate is regarded by the World Health Orginasation as one of the top 10 threats to global health in 2019. To paraphrase this statement, our view about vaccines is as critical as the infectious disease epidemics themselves in determining global public health.
It is, of course, painful for doctor and mother alike to oversee an otherwise happy child bursting into tears at being jabbed by a needle during vaccination. Hopefully, medical scientists in future will formulate oral vaccines similar to polio drops for all current vaccination injections to obviate the torture of needling children.
Extensive medical research has established that those who exercise religious and/or philosophical abstentions from vaccines are at a greater risk of contracting infections that put them as well as their communities at risk. As a result, medical health advocates are led into a battle to balance the ethics of protecting both an individual beliefs and the community’s health.
The crux of the issue should be to maintain a voluntary immunisation system and promote efforts in educating parents about the benefits of vaccination and dispelling myths about vaccine dangers.
However, this strategy appears to be futile. People are not as rational as we like to think they are and it is much easier to frighten than to enlighten them, as the anti-vaxxers (people who object to vaccines) have discovered.
Malaysia, as a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is obliged to give children the best healthcare and education there is.
Failure to vaccinate is tantamount to child abuse on the part of parents.
Vaccination against 12 critical diseases including measles, diptheria, mumps, hepatitis B, pertussis, polio, tuberculosis, etc, should be made mandatory; the rest can be optional.
When parents don’t want to protect children, the government must step in.
And the penalty for avoidance should not be “no jab, no school”.The possibility of allowing only vaccinated children to enrol in schools is definitely against the child’s interest and should not even cross the mind as a consideration.
If anything, fines of, say, up to RM500 could be imposed on an anti-vaxxer’s first offence, doubling on the next offence, and so on. Special circumstances like allergies to vaccines, of course, should be considered for valid exemptions from penalty.
DR A. SOORIAN