Medical Groups Want Government-Funded Flu Jabs For Senior Citizens

A petition led by the Malaysian Influenza Working Group urges the government to include fully-subsidised annual influenza vaccination for older people in Budget 2024. Thailand, Laos, the Philippines, and Singapore provide free flu jabs to senior citizens.

KUALA LUMPUR, Augues 7 — Thirty groups representing health care professionals and senior citizens have petitioned the government to provide senior citizens fully subsidised annual influenza vaccination.

The petition – initiated by the Malaysian Influenza Working Group (MIWG) and the Malaysian Society of Geriatric Medicine – has garnered more than 4,900 signatures at the time of writing.

“This petition campaign is supported by 18 medical societies and 11 non-governmental organisations, which are collectively known as the Malaysian Alliance for the Prevention of Influenza (MyAPI). 

“We wish to convey the collective desire of health care workers, senior citizens, and concerned citizens who are wholeheartedly in favour of this initiative,” MIWG and the Malaysian Society of Geriatric Medicine said in a joint statement today.

They urged the government to include fully subsidised annual influenza vaccination, free at the point of care, for older people in the upcoming federal Budget 2024.

In their petition, MIWG stated that 70 per cent of flu-related hospitalisations and 85 per cent of flu-related deaths occur among those aged 65 years and above. 

This group of individuals is at risk of potentially fatal health complications if they have pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, chronic kidney disease, and chronic lung disease. 

Influenza increases the risk of heart attack more than 10 times within the first week of infection. 

MIWG warned that senior citizens also face higher risk of developing pneumonia as a complication of influenza, leading to prolonged hospitalisation.

“It is important to highlight that hospitalisation alone is associated with poor outcomes in older persons, due to complications such as hospital-acquired pneumonia, delirium, falls, pressure injuries and functional decline. 

“These common and distressing complications share risk factors and can co-exist resulting in longer admissions, possible readmissions, and higher mortality. The risk of developing other life-threatening complications, such as myocarditis, encephalitis, and multi-organ failure, is also higher in this high-risk group.”

MIWG drew attention to other Southeast Asian countries – such as Thailand, Laos, Philippines, and Singapore – that are among 40 countries to have introduced free flu vaccines for older people. 

The World Health Organization (WHO), under its Global Influenza Strategy 2019-2030, has recommended annual flu vaccination to reduce the risk of severe illness, hospitalisation, and death. 

“Furthermore, this initiative is in accordance with the recently approved Health White Paper by the government, which aspires to cater to the emerging needs of the growing population of older persons in this country,” said MIWG and the Malaysian Society of Geratric Medicine.

“As the number of older persons with chronic diseases increases, so will the demand for long-term care, including the significant financial implications from direct cost of care.

“Preventive medicine, including vaccination, can therefore not only be potentially cost-saving, but also play a major role in preserving the health and independence of older adults.”

The groups also expressed their approval of Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa’s announcement of looking into providing influenza vaccination for high-risk groups.

“It is a timely reminder that we need to be constantly vigilant against this real and ever-present threat in Malaysia (unlike in temperate countries where the influenza season is primarily limited to the winter months).” 

Dr Zaliha reportedly said yesterday that flu jabs will only be given to frontline workers in the Ministry of Health (MOH) for now, as the number of influenza cases dropped the past week.

Citing MOH data, she said hospital admissions for the flu slightly decreased to 7.1 per cent in the 30th epidemiological week of the year, while consultations for influenza-like illness at public health clinics dropped slightly to 6.3 per cent from 6.4 per cent.

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