PETALING JAYA: As the debate continues over whether vaccination should be made compulsory for Malaysians, a report has alleged that the problem of “anti-vaxxers” has spread to those going to Mecca.
The Sunday Times of Singapore said that despite strict rules requiring those going for the haj or umrah to be vaccinated first, it has learnt that some have breached the rules by getting travel agents or doctors to falsify vaccination forms.
It said this tactic could see Malaysians contract diseases such as meningitis through mingling with millions of people from all over the world in Saudi Arabia or pass diseases to others there.
According to the report published today, about three million pilgrims go to Mecca each year.
They include some 30,000 Malaysians who go on the haj, staying in the kingdom for about a month and more than 200,000 who perform the umrah, spending some two weeks there.
“My family and I performed our umrah two years ago without getting the meningococcal vaccine,” the report quoted Muhammad Quddus, a 43-year-old businessman from Petaling Jaya, as saying.
“The travel agency took care of it for us by getting a doctor to put his signature down in our health record book.
“I was told they (the company) also ‘cater’ to haj pilgrims who do not want to be vaccinated.”
Maimunah Ishak, 45, an executive at a law firm in Selayang, Selangor, claimed she used the service of a third party for her family about two years ago.
“The problem was getting someone (a doctor) to sign our vaccination booklet. After months of looking around, we finally found an ustaz who runs a travel agency who was willing to do it for us, but we had to pay RM500 each,” she was quoted as saying.
A “top government official” told the newspaper: “The meningococcal vaccine is mandatory but there are some pilgrims who opt out because of their personal beliefs.
“We are aware that such arrangements involving willing medical practitioners exist, but how it’s really done, we don’t know.”
The Saudi Arabian government makes it compulsory for potential pilgrims to get the meningococcal vaccine before their visas can be approved. Other jabs are encouraged but not compulsory such as vaccinations against the flu.
The report said the Malaysian authorities, led by pilgrims’ fund Tabung Haji and the tourism, arts and culture ministry, ensure that these health requirements are met.
Tabung Haji’s senior general manager of the haj department, Syed Saleh Syed Abdul Rahman, told the daily that all pilgrims must pass the medical examination and take the mandatory meningococcal vaccination.
“This record book is systematically verified by the health ministry and checked by Tabung Haji. There are no exceptions,” he was quoted as saying.
The report said the growing problem of “anti-vaxxers” – as the movement that rejects immunisation is called – has been noted by the Malaysian government for several years.
The group has been blamed for the surge in cases of measles and diphtheria, sometimes fatal, in recent years.
The group rejects inoculations on grounds such as doubts about the halal status of vaccines, the report said.
Others believe in conspiracy theories involving a “New World Order” or “Big Pharma”, which they claim manufactured viruses before developing vaccines in order to make a profit.
Recently, FMT reported that the health ministry has set up a task force to study proposals and calls to make vaccination compulsory.
This follows the death of a two-year-old boy from diphtheria in Johor Bahru on Feb 21. The boy had never been immunised.
Five children, who are believed to have been in contact with the boy, were also quarantined after they tested positive for diphtheria.