By AZALEA AZUAR / Pic by AFP
Only 62.8% of Malaysians believed that immunisation during pregnancy is safe while the majority is more confident with childhood immunisations (81.5%), according to a study conducted by the Immunise4Life (IFL).
Most respondents (78.7%) were also aware that maternal immunisation protects mothers.
More than half (64.2%) acknowledged that it can protect newborns and a few were unaware of its benefits (11.9%).
According to University Technology Mara (UiTM) Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist and Maternal-Foetal Medicine Specialist Prof Dr Jamiya Hassan, one of the factors is that there is a general lack of awareness among mothers regarding maternal immunisation.
She advised mothers not to worry about vaccination during pregnancy as the Health Ministry (MOH) has assured that it does not approve the use of any drugs, including vaccines, on pregnant women in Malaysia unless there is significant research to prove their safety.
Many countries have also introduced Tetanus Toxoid, Reduced Diphtheria Toxoid, and Acellular Pertussis (Tdap) vaccine to replace Anti-Tetanus (ATT) vaccines to combat the increasing number of Pertussis cases among young children.
Dr Jamiya also mentioned that Malaysia’s pertussis cases are rising and 70% involve babies below six months who are either too young to be vaccinated or have yet to be fully vaccinated.
These infants have been infected by the illness from mothers and close family members.
“Newborns and infants are more likely to suffer from serious pertussis complications that can lead to death,” she said during the “Doses of Love for Mom & Child” media forum on Apr 28.
Pertussis vaccines will help pregnant mothers transfer their antibodies into their foetus via the placenta, protecting their unborn child until they can be vaccinated.
The vaccine also reduced the likelihood of the mother to spread the disease to her unborn child.
Moreover, Dr Jamiya also urged pregnant mothers to be vaccinated against influenza to prevent them from suffering more serious flu complications.
“Most of us might have forgotten that during the influenza H1N1 pandemic, many of the mortalities were pregnant mothers.
“We cannot afford to be complacent — vaccinating pregnant mothers against this preventable infectious disease is the right thing to do,” she added.
Only a few respondents are aware that Tdap (21.8%) and influenza (26.9%) vaccinations are important to take during pregnancy while awareness is higher for Covid-19 (72.8%) and ATT (63.7%) vaccinations.
The Covid-19 and ATT vaccines are given for free by the MOH while Tdap and Influenza vaccines are only available in private healthcare facilities.
Although they may not be among the 11 vaccines listed in the National Immunisation Programme (NIP) and are only available in private clinics, they are still just as important.
On the other hand, the survey indicated that 92.9% of the respondents believed in the significance of vaccinating their children on time where a few have delayed their child’s immunisation (15.5%) and some did not vaccinate their child at all (0.5%).
Most parents delayed their children’s vaccination dates because they either “forgot” or were “too busy”, followed by transportation problems.
Consultant Paediatrician & Neonatologist Datuk Dr Musa Mohd Nordin advised parents to stick to their children’s vaccination dates as the longer they delay it, the more chance they will be infected with life threatening vaccine-preventable diseases.
“You would not wait 30 minutes into a road trip before putting your infant in a car seat, would you? Accidents can happen at any time.
“Some parents have asked what they should do if their child is two years late for a particular immunisation appointment. In most cases, for example pneumococcal, diphtheria, pertussis and polio, the vaccinations can and should be given even if the child has reached the ages of three or four,” he said.
Therefore, he believed that it is best that parents talk to their paediatrician to determine what is best for them.
As a parent, blogger and mother of two Iman Abdul Rahim shared tips for parents on how to not miss their children’s vaccination dates.
“I set reminders on my phone and make sure the dates of the vaccinations are free of any work or other commitments.
“It also helps if my husband is aware of our child’s schedule so he can take over if there’s a need,” she explained.
Officiating the forum was Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin who emphasised that Malaysia’s maternal mortality ratio was 23.8 per 100,000 live births in 2018 compared with 280 per 100,000 live births in 1957 as the government has prioritised mother-and-child health.
“Under-five mortality was also markedly reduced, by 90.2% in 2020 (6.9 per 1,000 live births) from 70.2 per live births in 1965, putting Malaysia on par with advanced nations.
“Now, the childhood NIP protects Malaysian children from 13 vaccine preventable diseases,” he said.
The MOH began the NIP for children in the 1950s where only a small amount of vaccines have been provided for free while the maternal immunisation programme started back in 1976 by providing ATT vaccination for free to all pregnant women.
The MOH is also planning to introduce the Tdap vaccine.
Khairy mentioned the Covid-19 vaccination programmes for pregnant women and children between the ages of five and 11 (PICKids) and 12 and 17 (PICK-R) also showcase the MOH’s consistent and continuous efforts to protect mothers, newborns and children from infections.
The “Doses of Love for Mom & Child” is held in conjunction with World Immunisation Week organised by the Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA) and the Malaysian Society of Infectious Diseases and Chemotherapy Malaysia (MSIDC).
It will be followed by the release of a series of public education videos on IFL’s social media platforms between May and June this year.
Both initiatives are the result of collaborations with the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA), Medical Mythbusters Malaysia (M3), MedTweetMy (MTM) and Perinatal Society of Malaysia (PSM).