Many adults think that vaccines, or immunisations, are just for children. After all, apart from receiving the Covid-19 vaccines, the last time any of us received a vaccination was probably when we were still in school.
The ability to protect ourselves from infectious diseases through immunisation is a medical marvel and miracle, one that is often taken for granted by adults. In fact, just looking at Covid-19, we have seen that vaccination is effective at protecting people from getting seriously ill, being hospitalised, and even dying.
Most of us are vaccinated and boosted, and even if we do contract Covid-19, the symptoms are usually mild.
Therefore, as we approach the year-end holiday season, with all the anticipated joy of family gatherings and long-awaited trips, amidst the shopping and bright lights, we must remember that the threat of flu (influenza) is still present. We cannot afford to lower our guard.
We need to have confidence in flu vaccination to prevent flu from affecting our children, relatives with comorbidities (having more than one health condition such as heart disease, diabetes, and others), and elderly loved ones who are at high risk of getting health complications from flu.
In Malaysia, many adults suffer illness and even death from flu, which can be prevented through a vaccination that is recommended annually for all adults. However, only a small number of people choose to get their annual shot, with best estimates placing our vaccination rate at a mere 3%.
Is it any surprise that Southeast Asia is estimated to have one of the highest mortality rates from flu?
Flu Is More Serious Than You Think
The common perception of flu as a mild disease is flawed. While it is true that the flu itself does not kill, its complications can be fatal, especially among high-risk groups like older persons and those with comorbid conditions.
The consequences are significant, as the flu increases the risk for a first heart attack by 10 times in adults as young as 40 years old. Among those with heart disease, the risk of dying from flu is five times higher and 20 times higher for those with heart and pulmonary disease.
Increasing age further elevates the risk, with up to 85 per cent of all flu-related deaths occurring in those 65 and above.
As the prevalence of these conditions increases with age, and the Malaysian population is rapidly ageing, this leaves us with an ever-increasing group of at-risk individuals.
Time To Act, With Love
Experts around the world recommend the annual flu vaccine as the most effective way to prevent the flu, and the Malaysian Influenza Working Group (MIWG) strongly recommends that all older persons should do so. Older persons with comorbidities should be prioritised for annual influenza vaccination.
We also highly recommend that residents and staff of aged care facilities such as nursing homes should be given annual flu vaccination. This could help to reduce the risk of death by 48 per cent among this age group.
To help protect more people, the Malaysian Adult Immunisation Guidelines recommend vaccination for all persons aged 18 and above who have one or more medical conditions, those above 50 years of age, pregnant women, obese persons, and those in institutional settings. In addition, vaccination for healthcare workers, household members and/or caregivers for those with high-risk conditions and those performing religious pilgrimages are also recommended.
Over and above these recommendations, anyone who can get vaccinated should do so every year, because flu prevention is a community effort, and we must each play a role.
By taking action to protect ourselves against the flu, we also play a role in protecting those around us, especially those who are vulnerable to the effects of the flu such as our young children and grandchildren, older parents and grandparents.
This year, while we visit our loved ones, let’s bring cheer instead of the flu. In fact, getting flu vaccinated is more than just a gesture of care. It is an act of love.
Prof Zamberi Sekawi is chairman of the Malaysian Influenza Working Group (MIWG).
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.