KUALA LUMPUR: The well-being of Malaysians in general is under threat from the growing numbers of urban and educated people savvy in the use of social media to oppose compulsory vaccinations for children, says a healthcare expert.
Azrul Mohd Khalib, chief executive of Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy, said the anti-vaccination campaign has become more severe, with campaigners making sophisticated use of chat apps such as Whatsapp and Facebook to spread their insidious message.
“The problem right now is their ability to campaign and push their message of not vaccinating their children. It is actually damaging the country’s well-being as a whole,” he said.
The groups, commonly referred to as anti-vaxxers, often criticise the halal status of vaccines and its alleged link to learning disabilities such as autism, among others.
“I think the campaign to fight back anti-vaxxers is increasing, which shows that the problem is increasing.
“The campaign was showing good results. The rate of MMR vaccinations would not change, at around 95%, but now it has gone seriously low – far below what we need,” he said. The MMR vaccination rate in 2018 stood at 89% – lower than the required 95% for herd immunity.
MMR vaccine is a vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella (German measles). The first dose is generally given to children around nine to 15 months of age, with a second dose at 15 months to six years of age.
In May, the Health Ministry announced it was considering compulsory MMR and diphtheria vaccination of children enrolling in school.
“There are a lot of people who cannot and are unable to get vaccinated and they can only be protected through herd immunity,” Azrul added.
He said a pattern of cases of such diseases in urban areas such as Putrajaya indicated there was increasing opposition to vaccination among more educated people with better access to healthcare.
Azrul noted that alternative health advocates were similarly against vaccinations, and some groups led by researchers and scientists have argued against modern medicine, including vaccinations.
“They are pushing ideas and assertions that have already been debunked by science and research and proven investigations,” he said. “Their standing is really on erroneous beliefs and also lies, to a great deal.”
He said the main problem was from those groups who claim alternative treatments are a substitute for modern medicine “and that is wrong”.
Azrul said that the healthcare system would be burdened by treating more cases of preventable diseases, which may cause healthcare costs to rise.