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Monday, July 24, 2017

Group launches campaign to mitigate vaccine refusals

KUALA LUMPUR - Vaccine rejections due to “religious” reasons are allowing previously eradicated diseases to take root again in Malaysia, said the G25 when launching a campaign to allay such unfounded fears.

Among these is diphtheria, a vaccinable bacterial disease that can lead to paralysis and even death in unprotected child victims.

According to G25’s Datuk Dr Narimah Awin, the Health Ministry found that parents were increasingly citing religious objections to decline the vaccinations, adding that this was particularly so within the Muslim community.

“Many of these are due to parents being afraid that it is haram (forbidden). There is a trend in Malaysia that parents reject because of halal and haram,” the former Health Ministry director of family health development said during a press conference today.

The G25 today launched two videos in Bahasa Malaysia titled 'Apakah itu Vaksin? (What are vaccines?)' and 'Adakah vaksin itu haram dan sebabkan autisma? (Are vaccines forbidden and do they cause autism)” to raise awareness on the importance of vaccination.

National Heart Institute (IJN) founder Tan Sri Dr Yahya Awang explained that more parents are refusing to allow their children to be vaccinated due to claims that these contain pig DNA as well as the belief that they cause conditions such as autism.

Using the example of diphtheria that caused five deaths last year, he said the disease was thought to have been eradicated in Malaysia.

“Then we found out that certain sections of society have unsubstantiated doubts about vaccination. Doubt on how it is done, if it contains pig DNA,  if side effects lead autism and is it halal,” the G25 member said.

The diphtheria resurgence not only killed five victims last year, but also resulted in the first adult infection in the country’s history.

Health Ministry data showed that the majority of vaccine refusals were in the Kedah, Perak and Selangor, but did not find demarcations between urban and rural attitudes.

“The latest number of rejectors last year is 1,600 cases,” Dr Rozita Abdul Rahman, said adding that some parents instead opt for treatments such as homoeopathy instead of vaccinating their children. 

She added that the Health Ministry was working closely with religious authorities to change public perceptions.

Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican, a former Health director-general, said the anti-vaccination wave must be curbed before it became more entrenched in the country.

He criticised in particular parents who refused to allow their children to be vaccinated over ostensibly religious reasons, despite Islamic authorities repeatedly explaining that vaccinations were both permissible and encouraged.

“It is not just Malaysian problem, but is a global problem. It happens in all Muslim countries. It is because of the message sent by naysayers especially religious authorities.

“Fear that the community at large view you as anti-Islamic. That’s why we in Malaysia are taking the initiative to nip it in the bud,” he stressed today.

Malaysia, like many other countries, is combating a growing anti-vaccination wave that is predicated on religious fears as well as concerns that vaccines could lead to diseases such as autism.

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