Due to the emergence of many parents’ doubts to send their children for vaccination, the right awareness is crucially needed, as people need to know that child vaccination in this era has more benefits than the potential risks.
According to a survey by Pew Research Centre, it has been found that only about one-third of Malaysians view childhood vaccines as having little or no risk, and nearly half of them see vaccines as providing a high degree of preventive health benefits.
This may extrapolate into a significant portion of Malaysians that are less likely to pursue childhood vaccination, which would eventually expose children to many potentially lethal diseases, such as pneumonia.
As observed, there were 915 cases of whooping cough reported with 20 deaths, and all victims had no immunisation records, as stated in the Ministry of Health (MOH) statistics of infected patients in 2019.
The relevant authorities need to put significant effort in educating the public that neglecting childhood vaccination is riskier for children, especially during the current situation that renders them vulnerable to high-risk diseases.
Based on Stanford Children’s Health, vaccine schedules recommended by agencies and organisations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians can cover about 14 different diseases.
Vaccination has been shown to protect children from deadly diseases, such as polio, tetanus and diphtheria as well as eliminating or significantly reducing the harmful diseases that are widely transmitted among children.
The MOH also strongly recommends that all children in the country receive vaccines according to the set schedule. Still, it is up to individuals to believe the need for children’s vaccines.
The lack of awareness regarding child vaccination in Malaysia is further exacerbated by the rise of the anti-vaccination movement, driven by the growing perception that vaccination of children is risky, with claims of health complications such as autism. It is likely that those who endorse the movement would also breach the common practice of childhood vaccination in the country.
According to Texas Tech University Health Sciences Centre’s School of Pharmacy, the reasons why most parents are hesitant to vaccinate their children can be complex and may be driven by a combination of religious and personal beliefs, safety concerns, lack of trust in existing information and a desire for more information from health care providers.
The reasons may be similar in Malaysia, but it is further worsened by the rapid urbanisation, which leads to the presence of an unhealthy lifestyle and trends that can expose children to various diseases. Many parents are also too busy to be fully attentive in protecting their children via vaccination.
As in Europe, the vaccine scepticism is also a major public health issue and mainly due to the same anti-establishment sentiment that is closely linked to political movements.
The anti-vaccination movement has elements that may be considered conspiracy theories, such as the narrative of vaccine emergence as a sinister strategy to sterilise or infect non-Western cultures.
Based on the Islamic perspective, the emphasis on preserving health is also in line with one of the higher objectives of Islamic law, known as Maqasid Syariah, which means that we should protect ourselves from any potential dangers and diseases.
Current studies and past historical data are generally supportive of this notion, which should serve as one of the bases for decision-making in health policy and religious jurisprudence.
Accordingly, the question of halal in vaccination in Malaysia was resolved through a fatwa (religious edict) by the relevant Islamic religious authorities.
Additionally, the Organisation of Islamic Conference also reported the world’s leading Islamic scholars, led by the Grand Imam of the Holy Mosque of Mecca, agreed protection against diseases is obligatory and permissible under Islamic law.
The apparent direct contradiction of the arguments by misinformed society and the health authorities may lead to a health crisis, motivated by the false notion their children would remain safe without the use of vaccines, quoting arbitrary and false examples of “healthy generations before the child vaccine discovery”.
In the age where speed of information spreads rumours and fake news like wildfire, it is clear that a proactive approach to tackle misinformation is required from the health authorities.
Therefore, child vaccination should remain a practice until and unless we have clear, convincing and impartial evidence that suggest otherwise. Until then, a concerted effort by the related authorities is needed to ensure that proper awareness on this matter can be successfully delivered to the public, particularly to new parents.
Furthermore, as Malaysia seeks to secure Covid-19 vaccines, this is a crucial effort to shift people’s mindset towards general acceptance by the society – necessary for a successful nationwide vaccination effort.
Farhan Kamarulzaman is a research assistant at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.
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