CYBERJAYA • The Malaysian Health Ministry is mulling over a radical move to provide free vaccination for all children under five, including migrants and refugees, as the country reels from a spike in cases of parents rejecting vaccinations for their children.
Vaccinations to immunise children from diseases are not compulsory in Malaysia.
The refusal by parents to allow their children to be vaccinated has led to a jump in measles cases and recent diphtheria deaths, two contagious diseases that Malaysia overcame decades ago due to the successful immunisation of children.
Many of these parents are Muslim, who have refused to allow their children to be vaccinated as they believe the jabs contain elements of pig DNA. Some also worry that the vaccines could cause dangerous side effects.
Another large group that has not been vaccinated is the children of illegal migrants. There are an estimated two million adult foreigners working in Malaysia without work permits, with many raising their children in the country.
The deaths caused by diphtheria have triggered outrage, prompting the Health Ministry, medical experts and Islamic officials to plead with parents not to believe in rumours.
Selangor health director Zailan Adnan said on Sunday that the plan for free jabs, which would involve providing all vaccines listed under the National Vaccination Programme, has been discussed at high-level technical group meetings which felt this would be the best approach.
"It is still at the proposal stage," she said, adding that if implemented, the plan would cost the government about RM10 million (S$3.4 million) annually.
"Those under five are in the vulnerable group and, whether they are foreigners or not, they should not be denied good health including vaccination," she said during a forum entitled "Vaccination, Is It Really Safe?" at a university in Cyberjaya.
Dr Zailan pointed out that if more people were immunised, then an outbreak of preventable diseases was less likely.
Fellow panellist and consultant pediatrician Dr Musa Mohd Nordin described the proposal to provide vaccinations free of charge as an "excellent initiative".
He pointed out that the refugee communities in Malaysia had zero vaccination coverage and could be the epicentre of an outbreak.
"Unless you vaccinate them, they will be a reservoir for infection and they will pass it on to local children," he said.
Dr Musa said the proposal could mean achieving "herd immunity", where between 90 to 95 per cent of the population is vaccinated.
This would help protect the few who cannot be vaccinated, such as those who are too young to be vaccinated and those who had cancer, leukaemia, HIV or were on steroids or other cancer drugs.
Said Dr Mohd Rashidi Abdul Salam, chairman of the non-governmental organisation, MyHELP, that organised the forum: "Come talk to us, don't just assume, don't just Google or talk to your friends who may not know what they are talking about."
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK