Take the right step to keep children healthy and disease-free, writes Heygaajivan Kernas,
WHAT are vaccines? Vaccines are biological preparations made from bacteria and viruses which are known to cause severe and contagious diseases. As part of the process in creating vaccines, a portion or the whole of the microorganism is usually weakened or killed before it is made into a vaccine.
This part or whole of the microorganism is known as an “antigen” and once it enters the human body, it will cause an immunological response which results in the formation and the release of antibodies into the bloodstream. The antibodies produced by our body will then work to fight off and neutralise the antigen, resulting in the prevention of dangerous diseases.
Generally, a vaccine shot generates antibodies and memory cells which can remain in the body for years. Antibodies neutralise and destroy the invading bacteria or virus while memory cells act as “reminders” to stimulate an immune response if the body is exposed to the same bacteria or virus again in the future.
Thus, it is said that an individual has been “immunised” towards a disease if he or she receives a vaccine for that disease, with the action of receiving a vaccine being called “immunisation”.
Besides the antigen, a vaccine also contains other components in its formulation such as adjuvants, stabilisers and preservatives, all of which have been added to ensure the quality, safety and efficacy of vaccines.
Vaccination remains by far the most effective method to prevent and ward off infectious diseases among young children. Among those who are not immunised, vaccine-preventable diseases continue to be the main cause of disability and death.
The immune system of a child is still in its developmental stage and therefore weaker than that of an adult. Immunisation is of paramount importance for a child in order to address this vulnerability and to provide protection against vaccine-preventable infectious diseases.
Immunisation should be done as early as possible in accordance with the immunisation schedule (The National Immunisation Programme) established by the Ministry of Health Malaysia (MOH).
The National Immunisation programme was first established in the 1950s. It is a free service provided by MOH to protect children against a range of dangerous infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis B, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), poliomyelitis, haemophilus influenza type B, measles, mumps, rubella and the human papilloma virus (HPV).
Most vaccine-preventable diseases covered by the National Immunisation Programme can cause serious prolonged health complications. With the availability of vaccines, the possibility of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks and epidemics are curtailed resulting in overall safety for the public.
Even from an economic perspective, vaccines reduce the financial burden on families and governments owing to the fact that the cost of treating a life-threatening disease is much more expensive than a shot of a vaccine.
Of late, there have been members of the Malaysian community who have refused vaccinations for their children, and on the whole, reject the National Immunisation Programme due to misconceptions and fears regarding vaccines.
The misconceptions concerning vaccines are largely due to myths and speculations spread by certain reckless and uninformed members of the community. Even though these are not supported by scientific evidence, they have become real threats to the success of public health vaccination programmes in Malaysia and other parts of the world.
Parents and members of the community are advised to not be deceived by these fallacies as these misconceptions have been proven many times over by scientists and researchers to be unjustified and often fabricated. MOH has recently published a document titled
Frequently Asked Questions on Vaccine and Immunisation which addresses most of the common misconceptions surrounding vaccines. This document is available for download at www.moh.gov.my.
Although vaccines are readily available in Malaysia, there have been very worrying reports of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks in recent times.
It should also be understood that vaccine-preventable diseases not only transmit through children but also through adults. Thus it should be an absolute priority to vaccinate children to ensure the preservation of health and wellbeing of all children as well as other members of the community.
Immunisation is a shared responsibility. It should be viewed as a collective effort by the Malaysian community towards combating vaccine-preventable diseases to its eventual eradication such as the eradication of smallpox through successful global immunisation programmes.
Every child has a right to be immunised.
It is the duty and obligation of every parent or caretaker to ensure that their children are vaccinated according to the National Immunisation Programme so that children have a winning chance against life-threatening infectious diseases.
Inquiries regarding vaccines and medicines can be addressed to the National Pharmacy Call Centre (NPCC) at the toll-free line 1800-88-6722 during weekdays, from 8am to 5pm.
*Heygaajivan Kernas is a pharmacist from the Ministry Of Health Malaysia.