Govt may offer free vaccinations for foreigners, kids

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PETALING JAYA: The Health Ministry may offer free vaccinations to foreigners, including children of immigrants and refugees, in the country.

NST Online quoted Health Minister Dr S Subramanian as saying that this would help prevent the spread of contagious diseases in the country.

But the move needs the consensus from the finance ministry and home ministry before a decision can be made.

The newspaper reported that Selangor Health Director Dr Zailan Adnan yesterday said the ministry’s high technical group was holding discussions to expand free vaccinations to all children, including foreigners, under the age of five, in the country.

She said the free vaccination programme would cost about RM10 million annually.

Meanwhile, Bernama quoted Malaysian Medical Association President Dr John Chew Chee Ming as expressing concern over the surge in the number of measles and chickenpox cases in Malaysia.

He said this was a worrisome issue as children who were not immunised could develop serious complications.

He said viral illnesses like measles may even lead to permanent brain damage, particularly in children who were not vaccinated in accordance with the national immunisation schedule.

“The public should realise that it is far better to immunise their children than see them suffering from complications should they be afflicted with measles,” he said.

Health Services Director-General Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah had said recently that the number of measles cases reported throughout the country this year increased by 340% to 873 as of the first week of June, compared with 197 during the corresponding period last year.

He said 1,318 cases of measles with two deaths were reported in 2015 while no deaths have been reported so far this year.

As for chicken pox, he said 10 outbreaks have so far been recorded this year, compared to 12 episodes in the same period in 2015 and nine in 2014. No deaths from chicken pox were reported in the last three years.

Both measles and chickenpox are vaccine preventable diseases and their viruses are contagious and spread through the air and direct contact with the patient’s fluid droplets.

The measles vaccine is given to young children in two doses (at nine months and 12 months) under the National Immunisation Schedule, while chickenpox is not included in the schedule.

The immunisation programme for children provided by government and private hospitals was completely safe, said Chew, adding that the contents of the vaccines have been clinically tested to ascertain their safety.

“Measles and chickenpox may have been common childhood illnesses before immunisation was made available (to prevent them) but they can be life threatening and result in long-term complications,” he told Bernama recently.

However, he said, certain people perceive the two illnesses as “natural” occurrences and even think “it is good for children to get them.”

Urging the public not to take measles and chickenpox for granted, Chew said it was of utmost importance that all parents adhered to the Health Ministry’s immunisation schedule for young children.

“The problem is that some of them are worried about the side effects of the vaccines on their children … but we medical practitioners always watch out for allergic reactions, fever or local swelling after the vaccines are administered.

“There may be mild reactions in some children but, generally, there are no side effects at all.”

On the concerns of some Muslims that the vaccines may not be halal, Muslim Doctors Association of Malaysia President Dr Ahmad Shukri Ismail said it was no longer practical for Muslims to harbour such concerns due to the advancement of healthcare services in Malaysia.

“We already have halal-certified vaccines, so why do they have to worry about it? For me, those who refuse the vaccinations are just being extreme… the vaccines are meant to save lives.”

He said based on his 30 years of experience in the medical field, the vaccines were safe for the human body. He has also yet to come across any cases of children adversely affected by the vaccines.

Ahmad Shukri also advised parents to consult a doctor immediately if their children showed symptoms like runny noses and fever, and develop fine red rashes on their body to prevent the disease from spreading to others.

“Older children sometimes have more severe symptoms than younger ones,” he said, adding that both the government and relevant non-governmental organisations should step up efforts to educate the public on the importance of getting their children immunised.