Flu Vaccination: An Act Of Love — Dr Koh Kar Chai

As the flu virus could easily be transmitted during visits, getting the flu vaccine as an act of love for the entire family is highly encouraged.

As the end of the year approaches, many Malaysians are looking forward to the coming holiday season, with 2022 being the first year we can “let our hair down” without stringent Covid-19 protocols.

For some, it may be a long-awaited trip, for others, a family reunion with those abroad, or a much-anticipated festive gathering. However, it is also an inconvenient truth that each encounter increases our exposure to other infectious diseases like flu (influenza), which can circulate freely now that masks and social distancing requirements are no longer in effect.

With flu outbreaks peaking during winter months in temperate climates and intermittent outbreaks year-round in tropical regions like Malaysia, the unavoidable truth is that flu is everywhere, and so is Covid-19, which is now reported to be on the rise once more due to a new variant.

However, unlike the high rate of vaccination against Covid-19, Malaysians are poorly prepared against the onslaught of flu, with vaccination rates hovering at a low 3 per cent.

In light of this, it is hardly surprising that Southeast Asia is estimated to have one of the highest mortality rates from flu.

While the flu vaccine is safe, effective and recommended for everyone 6 months and above, it is a common misconception that vaccines are only for children, and many adults fail to realise that there are many illnesses that can be prevented through vaccination.

It seems easy to brush off the flu as just a minor illness, but it can cause serious complications, especially in high-risk groups like older persons because the ageing immune system is less effective in fighting off infectious diseases and older persons are more likely to have at least one comorbid condition such as diseases affecting the lungs, heart, liver, and kidneys.

In addition, flu has also been known to increase the risk for a first heart attack in people as young as 40. This shows that one serious illness is all it takes to compromise an otherwise healthy person’s life, and the risk only increases with age, with some studies indicating up to 90% of influenza-related deaths occur in older persons.

In our rapidly ageing population – which is also largely unvaccinated – this means more and more people will be at risk of getting the flu, and risk suffering the complications that come with it.

This is why experts around the world highly recommend the flu vaccine as the most effective way to prevent the flu, as influenza vaccines offer a significant level of protection, with a 48% reduction in risk of death among older persons.

In addition to vaccination, we can also take additional preventive measures to help stop the chain of transmission, both locally and abroad. Similar to what was practiced during the pandemic, these would include wearing a mask indoors, social distancing, practicing good etiquette like covering our mouths and noses while coughing or sneezing, sanitising our hands frequently and avoiding places that are overly crowded are all good ways to keep ourselves safe from flu.

So, this year, in addition to packing for that holiday or shopping for gifts and decorations, consider getting vaccinated against flu as well. As the flu virus could easily be transmitted through adult children and grandchildren during visits, getting the flu vaccine as an act of love for the entire family – especially grandparents and older relatives – is highly encouraged.

Dr Koh Kar Chai is a general practitioner and flu prevention advocate.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.

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