Vaccines Have Worked For Over 200 Years: Dr Dzul

Health Minister Dr Dzul slams vaccine hesitancy among parents that has caused infectious disease outbreaks in Malaysia, saying vaccines have worked for over two centuries. Edward Jenner created the smallpox vaccine in 1796; smallpox was eradicated in 1980.

KUALA LUMPUR, May 14 — Dzulkefly Ahmad yesterday sought to counter vaccine hesitancy that has risen in Malaysia and globally, particularly after the Covid pandemic, that affects other vaccines beyond Covid-19.

The health minister highlighted vaccine misinformation propagated by an anti-science ideology that began in western countries, but has now spread across the globe.

“As a result, many parents now choose to deny their children vaccination. It has caused cases like diphtheria and polio, which I mentioned earlier, to pop up from time to time, posing a danger to public health,” Dzulkefly said at the National Immunisation Day 2024 celebration in Putrajaya yesterday.

“I stress, for more than 200 years in the history of modern vaccination, vaccines are effective not just in terms of disease prevention, but they have also been scientifically proven to be safe.”

English physician Dr Edward Jenner created the world’s first successful vaccine over two centuries ago in 1796 – the smallpox vaccine – after observing that milkmaids who previously had caught cowpox did not catch smallpox; hence, a similar inoculation could be used to prevent smallpox in other people.

The term “vaccine” was later created, taken from the Latin word for cow, vacca.

In 1980, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared smallpox eradicated – the only infectious disease to achieve this distinction and that remains one of the most significant public health successes in history.

Smallpox – one of the most devastating diseases known to humanity that is believed to have existed for at least 3,000 years – caused millions of deaths before it was eradicated.

Dzulkefly said yesterday that vaccines approved for use in Malaysia undergo safety and effectiveness monitoring before registration by the Drug Control Authority (DCA), with continued monitoring after authorisation.

Anti-vaxxers spreading vaccine misinformation, he said, aren’t promoting knowledge because “knowledge requires continued discipline and evidence”. Neither is it a matter of choice, because “choice requires responsibility, especially to the public.”

Polio was detected in the state of Sabah in December 2019, the first time in Malaysia in 27 years. After a polio vaccination campaign, the WHO declared Malaysia polio-free in 2021.

However, Dzulkefly highlighted the continued risk of transmission, as neighbouring Indonesia reported polio cases in 2023 and this year.

“Even though the MOH (Ministry of Health) will continue polio surveillance activities and detection of the virus in the environment nationwide, vaccination is one of the key methods to protect society.”

Started in the 1950s, Malaysia’s National Immunisation Programme (NIP) now provides 10 vaccines to babies and children against 13 vaccine-preventable diseases. Other vaccines are also available for frontline health care workers, pregnant women, adults, senior citizens, and Hajj pilgrims.

Besides the 10 vaccines provided under the NIP, the government also provides HPV vaccination to 13-year-old girls to help prevent cervical cancer, as well as the Japanese encephalitis vaccine in Sarawak.

The pneumococcal vaccine has been provided by the MOH since December 2020. Since last year, pneumococcal vaccination was expanded to children born in 2018 and 2019 to protect children aged five years and below from invasive pneumococcal disease.

“National immunisation coverage for babies and children is high. In fact, for many main vaccines in the immunisation programme, coverage exceeds 95 per cent,” Dzulkefly said.

Last March, the media reported the death of a two-month-old baby boy from pertussis, or whooping cough, in Tanah Merah, Kelantan. So far, this year, 29 pertussis cases were reported across the east coast state, including three outbreaks in Tanah Merah, Pasir Puteh, and Kota Bharu.

Dzulkefly said in his speech that the government has approved providing the tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis (Tdap) vaccine to pregnant women, expected to be launched by year end, to protect newborns from pertussis infection.

The health minister also told reporters that the MOH will request an allocation in Budget 2025 for influenza vaccination for vulnerable groups and senior citizens aged 65 years and older.

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