The World Health Organization reported that 5.9 million children below five years of age died in 2015. More than half of those deaths were due to preventable causes, especially diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis and diarrhoea, all of which could have been prevented by vaccination.
Even in Malaysia, there is a small group who prefer to avoid vaccinations as they believe some of the myths which are completely erroneous.
Here are some myths that continue to perpetuate despite all the facts:
Fact: Minor effects may appear in some children (e.g. sore arm or mild fever) and rarely do adverse effects occur. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) runs a continuous surveillance called the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), which showed little or no evidence that reported deaths were due to vaccines.
The Ministry of Health (MoH) Malaysia also monitors adverse events associated with vaccination.
Fact: The human immune system is able to cope with even more antigens contained in combination vaccines. After all, children are exposed to all sorts of foreign antigens every day; combination vaccines will not overburden their immune systems. Their bodies can easily cope with the number of antigens given in different vaccines.
Fact: Some of the diseases vaccinated against are rare in Malaysia. This is due to effective compulsory vaccination, but people who travel to regions where these diseases still exist may bring it back when they return.
Vaccination helps protect the minority in our population who are allergic or do not respond to certain vaccines. Vaccination has eradicated smallpox and almost removed polio (except for two countries). Measles would have been eradicated too if not for increased vaccine refusals.
Fact: The link between this vaccine and autism is completely baseless. In 1998, a paper published in The Lancet by British researcher Andrew Wakefield claimed a link between the MMR vaccine and autism and bowel disease.
However, this paper was based on a small case series with no controls, linked three common conditions, and relied on parental recall and beliefs.
New evidence unearthed by journalist Brian Deer showed evidence that Wakefield falsified data about patients’ medical histories to support his claim of discovering a new syndrome. The paper was discredited and withdrawn.
This paper caused a measles outbreak in the UK resulting in some deaths, when parents refused the MMR vaccine for their children. Subsequent outbreaks were documented in the US.
We have had isolated outbreaks in Selangor and some other states as well, all of which were related to vaccine refusals. At least two deaths were reported by MoH.
Fact: In the past, the live-attenuated oral polio vaccine used did rarely cause vaccine-associated paralytic polio (VAPP), but the injectable inactivated polio vaccine does not cause VAPP.
Fact: This was the reason for refusing polio vaccination in Nigeria, which delayed the eradication of the disease. Before you accept this ridiculous reasoning, think why the vaccination programmes in the US, European countries and Israel use the same antigens as the rest of the world.
Fact: Different vaccines have to be dealt with differently. An enzyme of porcine origin is used in the initial production of the oral polio vaccine and the oral rotavirus vaccine. The amount used is so small that with diluents and other liquids added, it would have reduced the concentration. One chickenpox vaccine uses gelatine in the preparation. Although not pork as such, there is reservation by some parents.
An analysis of the final vaccine product by PCR (polymerase chain reaction) has confirmed the absence of pig DNA. All the vaccines used by MoH have no controversy about halal/haram.
The dangers posed by the disease itself are far higher than any risk of vaccination, real or imagined. Vaccination is a simple, practical, and effective method of primary prevention for your child. Remember to get the booster shots if applicable, as they must be completed in order to be effective.
Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail is the President of Asia Pacific Paediatric Association (APPA) and Chairman of the Positive Parenting Management Committee.