Recent reports show that more people are being hospitalised, in part due to influenza.
A mother recounted her struggles in securing a hospital bed for her influenza-stricken child, involving visits to four different hospitals.
Influenza shares common symptoms with Covid-19, including fever, cough, cold, sore throat and respiratory difficulties.
It can be worse for certain groups, like pregnant women, kids and older adults over 60 years old. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), older individuals are susceptible to severe complications like pneumonia, heart attacks, and strokes.
Older persons aged 60 and above at greater risk
With over 3.8 million citizens aged 60 and above, Malaysia faces a growing elderly population, accounting for nearly 11.3% of the nation.
The percentage is projected to exceed 15% by 2030, as reported by the Department of Statistics Malaysia.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States says that most influenza deaths occur in those aged 65 and older. However, not enough attention is given to older folks with influenza in Malaysia.
Former deputy director-general of the ministry of health (research and technical support) Dr Christopher Lee pointed out that influenza clusters have surged across the country.
According to the health expert, this poses alarming concerns for the elderly, who might have health problems and weaker immune systems.
As people get older, their immune system gets weaker, which makes it harder to fight infections. Health issues like diabetes and high cholesterol are also more common when you’re older. If you have diabetes, influenza can make it harder to control your blood sugar, which can be very dangerous.
A report from prominent medical news platform Medscape indicated that elderly individuals with heart problems face a fivefold higher risk of dying from influenza, while those with both heart and lung conditions are 20 times more likely to succumb.
Beyond infant and child vaccination, adults, particularly the elderly, stand to benefit from yearly influenza shots.
Vaccination is safe and cost saving in the long term
Treating influenza and its complications requires a lot of medical resources, with expenses escalating as individuals age. With yearly influenza shots, the elderly can potentially save money on healthcare.
Receiving influenza shots may also help lower risk of hospitalisation, complications and even influenza-related deaths.
The influenza vaccine has more than 70 years of history, with a good safety profile as affirmed by WHO. In 2019, over 500 million influenza shots were administered worldwide. Singapore, Thailand and Korea also provide free influenza vaccines to at-risk groups, such as older persons aged 60 and above.
Malaysia would do well to follow suit, and health minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa concurs that free annual influenza shots for the elderly would help to protect them from the virus.
Join the effort by endorsing this petition to make annual influenza shots freely available to older persons aged 60 and above.
Malaysians are also advised to wear masks in crowded places, wash their hands often and talk to a doctor about getting an influenza shot every year.
This article originally appeared in Harian Metro, with rights to be republished on Free Malaysia Today.