Why is immunisation important?

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After your child is born, you are given a schedule of immunisations that you are advised to follow. The vaccines are to protect your child from diphtheria, polio, tetanus, measles, tuberculosis and other diseases and infections. Not everyone is convinced though. Some question why stress a young child’s body with these vaccines. Others feel the herd immunisation provides enough protection for their children.

Dr Noor Shafina Binti Mohd Nor.

Dr Noor Shafina Binti Mohd Nor, consultant paediatric endocrinologist and consultant paediatrician at the UiTM Private Specialist Centre, answers some common questions:

I had measles and mumps as a child and I was fine. How bad can these old diseases be?

Each child responds differently to different illnesses. Some may develop more severe complications compared to others. Hence, prevention is always better than cure.

These days, various vaccines are lumped together in one jab. How safe is that?

These vaccines have been extensively studied before they are released for public use. They are safe to be given in a single jab and this way, it will also reduce the number of jabs needed by each child.

Can my young child’s body take so many vaccinations in a short period of time?

The vaccination schedule has been designed to provide the best protection for your children. As mentioned above, vaccines go through many years of research and rigorous testings. So, do not worry, your child will be able to handle these vaccines. In fact, it is important to give the vaccines early as scheduled to reduce the risk of contracting the diseases at a young age.

I hear that getting vaccinated doesn’t provide 100% protection. A child can still get measles after getting immunised. So, what is the point?

Yes, the measles vaccine does not give 100% protection. But, it does stimulate protective immune response in almost 99% of those vaccinated. At the moment, vaccines are the only weapon we have to protect our children from these deadly communicable diseases.

If there is the herd protection, wouldn’t the non-vaccinated children in the community be protected anyway?

Herd immunity occurs when the vaccination of a significant portion of a population provides protection for those who have not developed immunity. This can effectively stop the spread of the disease in the community. However, if immunisation rates fall, the herd protection will break down, giving rise to an increase in the number of new cases. Therefore, the non-vaccinated children are at more risk of contracting the diseases.

If the group of non-vaccinated children is growing, does that put the rest of the children within the community at risk?

Yes, of course. When there are more children who are not vaccinated, this will reduce the herd immunity in that community. Hence, more children are at increased risk of contracting the dangerous vaccine-preventable diseases.

How does the increase of foreign workers in our country affect the proliferation of old diseases? And how does it affect my child?

The increase of foreign workers in our country may increase the occurrence of the old diseases especially if these workers are not vaccinated. If your child comes into close contact with the foreign worker who has developed or is a carrier of a disease, your child is at an increased risk of developing the condition especially if their vaccinations have not been completed.

Malaysia was certified polio-free in 2000. Without vaccination, will Malaysia see an eradication of diphtheria? Are all these cases real or just a scare tactic?

Vaccination has proven to be successful in the eradication of smallpox. Although Malaysia has been declared polio-free, the disease still exists in the world’s poorest countries and marginalised communities. Diphtheria cases still do occur in this modern day and due to the increase in vaccine refusals, we are seeing a rise in new cases of diphtheria. Malaysia is no exception. With the decline in vaccination rates, full eradication of the vaccine-preventable diseases is difficult to accomplish.

New cases of vaccine-preventable diseases like diphtheria and measles are increasing in number in our country. This is really happening and definitely not just a scare tactic by the Ministry of Health.

Can I delay all these vaccinations till my child is older? When is it too late?

It is not advisable to delay the vaccination until your child is older. The risk of your child contracting vaccine-preventable diseases is higher the longer you delay vaccination.

Are there consequences if my child doesn’t complete the dose?

It is important to complete the doses to make sure optimum protection from the diseases. If your child has not completed the vaccination doses according to schedule or required timeframe, please speak to your doctor on how you can catch up on the vaccinations.