Parents, please vaccinate your kids

THIS time around, I'm dedicating my In Your Face to all the parents out there who have chosen to not immunise their children against infectious diseases like polio, mumps and diphtheria.

Yes, diphtheria. The entirely preventable disease that killed a boy in Kedah on June 22.

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.

And in Malacca, seven-year-old K. Durgasini passed away on June 18 due to bacterial diphtheria.

I couldn't help but feel sad and frustrated reading this, and my feelings were only amplified when I read a report quoting Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya.

Dr Hilmi basically went on record saying that more and more parents are choosing to opt out of the child immunisation programme, adding that there would be 2,000 cases of children in the country not getting immunised by the end of this year if current trends continued.

He pointed out that in the first three months of 2016, 500 parents had made the choice to not vaccinate their children.

This is a steep jump considering that there were 1,500 cases recorded throughout the entirety of 2015.

In reading that, I would definitely agree with him that it's going to be "very dangerous" if more and more parents choose not to vaccinate their sons and daughters.

Why? Well, it's dangerous to choose to opt out of immunisation protocols because this will give preventable diseases that were once under control – like diphtheria – a chance to re-emerge and begin killing again.

At this point I will stress that if parents choose to let their children grow up un-immunised, their inaction could have far-reaching, damaging consequences for others in their family and community.

But don't just take my word for it, as this is also the view of medical research organisations like the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in the United States.

Indeed, NIAID speaks of something called "herd immunity" to explain how a community can benefit when parents choose to immunise their children against infectious diseases.

"When a critical portion of a community is immunised against a contagious disease, most members of the community are protected against that disease because there is little opportunity for an outbreak. Even those who are not eligible for certain vaccines such as infants, pregnant women, or immunocompromised individuals get some protection because the spread of contagious disease is contained," said NIAID in explaining herd immunity.

Indeed, NIAID is not the only established organisation to call for the mass immunisation of children. The University of Oxford in the United Kingdom also puts forward an argument in favour of vaccination and herd immunity 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.

It goes on to spell out the six groups of people who stand to benefit the most from herd immunity; people without a fully-working immune system including those without a working spleen, people on chemotherapy treatment whose immune system is weakened, people with HIV, newborn babies who are too young to be vaccinated, the elderly and those who are ill in hospital.

And on the home front, Dr Hilmi pointed out that before vaccines, many children died from diseases such as measles, polio, smallpox and whooping cough. He also pointed out that parents need not worry about the quality of the vaccines or the halal status of vaccines as those used in Malaysia go through thorough checks, including DNA testing.

So with all of this, one fact is crystal clear. Parents should get their children vaccinated as soon as medically possible, or they could very well open up their family and community to outbreaks of infectious diseases that are difficult to treat but easy to prevent.

I really do hope that Malaysian parents can do the right thing, because if you don't vaccinate your kids - your inaction could very well get someone else's kids killed.
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