The recent diphtheria death of a child, those with serious illness/admissions and the need for active health surveillance of many others is of grave concern. It appears we are reversing all our health gains in our country. The majority of our population have little memory of the horrific nature of diseases that we have prevented using vaccines. Those of us who have worked in the health system for many decades have experienced the devastating effects of diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, polio, measles, Hib meningitis, etc. I remember going through two diphtheria epidemics in different parts of the country where we lost many children. Children coming to us choking due to the membrane that diphtheria causes in the throat and our futile struggle to salvage them. And for those that seemed to survive, some die suddenly from the complication of myocarditis (inflammation of the nerves of the heart). It was heart breaking for parents and those of us caring for the children.
Medical professionals recognise that vaccines have side effects but most of them are mild. However the health benefits of vaccines to the community are enormous. No health initiative has changed the lives of children as much as vaccines. Vaccines protect not just the child vaccinated but also all the children and susceptible adults (such as the very young, sick and the elderly) in the community by herd immunity.
In this day and age, to deny a child a vaccine for a basic preventable disease like diphtheria is unthinkable. Equally unacceptable are individuals who advocate that children not receive vaccines. Many of these advocates are dubious individuals, with titles of uncertain reliability, who claim to be experts, advising against vaccines. Where are they now that this child has died of diphtheria (with more deaths possibly to come)? Will they stand up and take responsibility for these easily preventable deaths?
It time to act against those who offer false and slanderous information on vaccines and make them responsible for the preventable illness and deaths of children in the country.
I sympathise with parents who want what is best for their children and are worried about vaccine side effects. But it is important to read and trust facts/science not claims or opinions that are posted on social media. For the sake of your child and all Malaysian children, I hope parents will support the use of vaccines.
Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS
Senior Consultant Paediatrician
Head Paediatric Department, Hospital RPB Ipoh, Perak