On 15th of October 2018, a 14-month-old child died of diphtheria in Johor Bahru. According to a statement issued by the Director General of Health, Datuk Dr. Noor Hisham Abdullah, the child was never vaccinated as her parents were against vaccination.
The child developed fever and sore throat on the 4th of October and it took a week for her mother to seek medical treatment at a private clinic. The child was subsequently brought to the emergency department of a hospital due to breathing difficulties and loss of appetite.
She was later admitted to the paediatric ward before being transferred to the paediatric’s intensive care unit on Oct 13 as her condition deteriorated. Sadly, she succumbed to the infectious disease on Oct 15.
Is such unfortunate event preventable? – Possibly
Diphtheria is an infectious disease caused by a bacterium called Corynebacterium diphtheria. This pathogen usually infects the upper respiratory tract (the mouth, throat and windpipe) or skin, and it produces toxins that can damage heart or nerve cells which can be fatal. Fortunately, this disease can be prevented via vaccination. You can read more about the disease here and its vaccination here.
In fact, vaccination is a cost-effective tool for controlling infectious diseases and is estimated to avert approximately 2 to 3 million deaths annually (World Health Organization).
The Health Ministry has urged the public to be wary of infectious diseases such as diphtheria, measles, mumps and others. This can be prevented via vaccination which are available at public hospitals and private clinics.
Regrettably, the vaccine safety fear propagated by anti-vaccine groups has led to the drop in overall vaccination rate worldwide. You can read about the safety of vaccine here. As a result, we are currently witnessing the rise of many infectious diseases which are previously preventable via vaccination.
Abstaining from vaccination harms not only the unvaccinated individuals themselves but the people around them too.
When high enough portion of the community is vaccinated against a specific infectious disease community immunity is achieved. Community immunity is important to protect vulnerable individuals who:
- do not mount enough immunity despite being vaccinated
- may not be suitable to receive certain types of vaccines, such as those who are immune-compromised, pregnant women, those who are acutely ill etc.
As a case in point, imagine your whole community except yourself has been vaccinated against diphtheria. If all the members of the community are immune to diphtheria, you are less likely to catch the infectious disease because no one in your community will spread it to you. This is illustrated by the following figure:
It is not difficult to imagine how this specific community immunity may be compromised if a significant number of individuals are not vaccinated:
It is advisable for everyone who is eligible for vaccination to be vaccinated. Therefore, all parents who have yet to vaccinate their children are urged to come forward and do so according to the schedule set by the Health Ministry.
If you think your decision affects only yourself, think again!