KUALA LUMPUR, July 29 — A health activist urged the government to provide an allocation in the upcoming Budget 2020 to list the pneumococcal vaccine in the national immunisation programme.
Chan Li Jin, founder of online health information centre MyHealth Outreach, reminded Pakatan Harapan (PH) about their 2018 election promise to make pneumococcal vaccine compulsory for all children below two years.
“Then what happened? Elections came and gone, Budget came and gone. We’re still talking about it. I’m very annoyed, I’m very irritated.
“It’s been 14 years since I’ve been talking about pneumococcal, I’m sick of it,” Chan said at the Distinguished Speakers Series organised by the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy here yesterday.
Chan said she has been fighting since 2005 for the listing of the pneumococcal vaccine in the national immunisation programme so that all Malaysian babies can receive it for free. Two online petitions she ran urging the government to provide free pneumococcal vaccination have collected 135,000 signatures so far.
But Chan said she was told by the Health Ministry that the cost of the pneumococcal vaccine — RM180 million for 500,000 children annually — equalled all the vaccines combined.
“You want to talk about money, what is the value of one life?” Chan questioned. “If it’s your child, what is the value of your child’s life?”
The health activist also said it was difficult to collect data on pneumococcal disease in Malaysia because it was a non-notifiable disease and as such, health authorities can’t tell how many pneumonia cases are caused by the bacterial infection.
Chan pointed out that 144 countries list the pneumococcal vaccine in their national immunisation programmes, including nations poorer than Malaysia like Laos, Cambodia, and the Philippines.
Chan argued that it was necessary to make the pneumococcal vaccine compulsory so that the poor could afford it, while the rich would not simply dismiss it if it was optional.
She warned parents that pneumococcal disease — an infection caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria — could cause death in less than 24 hours.
According to the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most pneumococcal infections are mild, but some can be fatal or result in brain damage or hearing loss. Complications include meningitis, pneumonia, bacteremia (bloodstream infection), and ear infections.
“It’s preventable,” Chan said. “Other things you can’t prevent, but if there’s one thing you can prevent, why not?”