KUALA LUMPUR, June 24 ― Medical experts have blamed a growing anti-immunisation movement for the resurgence of diphtheria that had practically disappeared from Malaysia.
Local daily the New Straits Times (NST) reported Family Medicine Specialists Association of Malaysia president Dr Norsiah Ali as saying that the number of cases of preventable diseases have risen over recent years, such as measles from 235 cases in 2014 to 539 last September, pertussis from 497 cases in 2014 to 655 cases last year, and tetanus from 12 cases in 2014 to 22 last September.
She reportedly said that the number of parents who refused to vaccinate their children also increased from 470 cases in 2013 to 1,054 cases as of May last year.
“Following this, there had also been an increase in the number of vaccine-preventable diseases,” Norsiah was quoted saying.
According to news reports, a seven-year-old girl died last Saturday in Malacca from diphtheria, a potentially fatal and highly contagious bacterial infection that can be prevented by immunisations, while a two-year-old boy died from the disease Wednesday in Kedah. Both of them reportedly had not received complete vaccination against diphtheria.
The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) told Malay Mail that the Health Ministry should review the immunisation programme, noting that some countries had campaigns like “No vaccine, no school”.
The anti-vaccine movement entered the spotlight after Ammar Wan Harun, a former contestant of the local Imam Muda reality TV series, mocked vaccinations on his Facebook page.
Perlis Mufti Datuk Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin later said that Muslims who refused to vaccinate their children were going against the teachings of Islam.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak also reminded parents on the importance of immunisation and told people not to circulate rumours about vaccination by citing religion.
Some Muslim Malaysians reject vaccinations for fear that they contain pig DNA. National newswire Bernama reported Kelantan Mufti Datuk Mohamad Shukri Mohamad as saying last month, however, that vaccinations are allowed in Islam even though they may contain “haram” substances.