Tough action needed against anti-vaxxers

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The anti-vaccination craze has arrived on our shores, much to the consternation of health and medical practitioners as well as parents who have common sense.

The anti-vaccination movement, now known as the anti-vaxxer movement, is especially notorious in the United States. The people associated with it argue that vaccines are actually deadly poisons and allege that the lack of information on the dangers of vaccination is the result of a massive cover-up by the greedy medicine industry.

Outside Malaysia, the movement currently focuses on the idea that vaccination leads to autism in children, but it’s the notion that vaccines contain pig DNA that has led to the emergence of our own little anti-vaxxer movement. Despite assurances from the government that none of the vaccines used in its immunisation programmes contains any porcine element, the Ministry of Health has reported that 1,270 cases of parents refusing vaccination were recorded this year, which is a phenomenal rise from 470 cases in 2013.

It has now come to light that three children – in Kedah, Malacca and Sabah – have died after contracting diphtheria, a disease that can be easily prevented with vaccination. Diphtheria is usually transmitted by direct touch or through the air, and sometimes through contaminated objects. There have been reports that the disease may have spread to friends who were in close contact with two of the deceased children – the ones in Kedah and Malacca.

This leads us to the biggest problem with the anti-vaccination movement. While the question of whether or not to vaccinate may be a less-than-wise exercise in free will and choice, the diseases we are usually vaccinated against are often contagious and deadly. That’s why we have a smallpox jab and not a fever jab. By not having your children vaccinated, you risk not only their lives but also those of their friends and the friends’ families. If not for that, perhaps most people would be content to let the anti-vaxxers do as they please in the hope that they would learn a harsh lesson.

Since we live in communities and cannot isolate ourselves from each other, we must confront the issue of opposition to vaccination. Diseases like diphtheria and neonatal tetanus are nearing the point of eradication, thanks to aggressive vaccination policies, but the anti-vaccination movement is threatening to reset our clock to a time when you could catch something just by walking outside.

The government must step in to combat those who spread falsehoods about vaccination and to remind everyone that vaccinations are made easily available for good reason. If allowed to grow, the anti-vaccination movement could cause a public health crisis that will take us years to recover from. Or do more children have to die before action is taken against those parents irresponsible enough to reject vaccination?