It was 5.37 pm when the minister of finance announced in the Budget 2020 that RM60 million had been allocated for the pneumococcal vaccine to be included in the National Immunisation Programme (NIP).
While it mattered little to the masses who were more focused on whether toll rates or the SST would be abolished, that moment in time marked the end of a 15-year struggle for paediatricians and parents who have been demanding for better health protection for all children.
On behalf of all Malaysians, we would like to thank the government for this gift of health.
Having the pneumococcal vaccine included in the NIP means making it available to all children for free. Currently, only families can afford it at private clinics/ hospitals, with each jab costing over RM300, amounting to over RM1,000 for the full course.
Once the pneumococcal vaccine is available to all children, we can expect these cumulative benefits over the next five years:
Reduction in pneumococcal deaths: 792
Reduction in invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD) cases: 1,920
Reduction in pneumonia cases: 58,677
Reduction in cases of otitis media (middle ear infection): 322,228
That’s not all.
A recent study has shown that the government stands to attain net overall savings in direct and indirect medical costs amounting to US$119.3 million over five years.
Children will have fewer sick days, which mean they will have less interruption in education. And fewer long term disabilities from the pneumococcal disease which would reduce the ability to learn and stay in school.
And don’t forget that illness is a real financial burden to families. Having one sick child means parents have to skip work to care for their sick child and incur more out-of-pocket expenses on transport and food when their daily routine is disrupted. These will affect the overall productivity of the country.
Lastly, the pneumococcal vaccine will protect the vulnerable (such as children with disabilities and those who cannot be vaccinated), as well as the elderly population, with pneumonia being the main cause of death among Malaysians aged above 60.
It has been shown since its introduction in the US in 2000, that an uptake rate of 70 per cent of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine would confer substantial herd immunity protection to these at-risk populations.
We thank the honourable minister of health for making this his legacy and fulfilling the election promise of GE14.
Health is the biggest wealth, without which none of the other budget allocations can be effectively utilised.
If we’re serious about providing equity for all, healthcare is where it must begin.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.