‘Prevention is better than cure’ is an age-old adage, first uttered by Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus in around 1500. This proverb, passed on through generations, is now a fundamental modern healthcare principle and also, the basis of how important vaccination is in the prevention of life-threatening infectious diseases. For parents especially, the idea of their beloved little ones harmed by all sorts of health ailments can be frightening.
The WHO reports more than 2 million children deaths each year from vaccine preventable diseases (VPDs). In 2019, the WHO identified hesitancy toward vaccination as one of the top 10 public health threats. Statistics show that in 2016, 12 million babies (1 in 10 babies) less than a year old were not vaccinated.
Latest vaccine on the National Immunization Program combats 6 life-threatening diseases in a simpler schedule
Life-threatening and infectious VPDs that have been highlighted as harmful to children in recent years include these 6 diseases: Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Poliomyelitis, Haemophilus Influenzae Type B and Hepatitis B. Just this month, our country’s Ministry of Health (MoH) announced the transition to the 6-in-1 vaccine (Hexavalent vaccine) under the National Immunization Program (NIP) in efforts to continue providing infants with the best possible protection in healthcare.
This means that the Hexavalent vaccine, which immunizes infants from the 6 above-mentioned diseases, will be now be available at all MoH health facilities nationwide. World Health Organization (WHO) statistics show as of 20 October 2020, 49 countries worldwide have added the Hexavalent vaccine to their respective immunization schedules (stated by the MoH in its announcement on 17 November 2020).
Malaysia’s History of Firsts in vaccination advancement
According to Dr Khoo Phaik Choo, a Consultant Paediatrician at a private medical centre in the Klang Valley, the MoH – with this initiative – places Malaysia on the map as one of the most advanced countries in protecting children with combination vaccine and one of the key Asian countries to include the Hexavalent vaccine on its national immunization schedule.
“We welcome this move by the MoH as it heralds positive change. With the Hexavalent vaccine on the NIP, more parents will now have the unique opportunity to prevent 6 infectious diseases from infecting their children, all in one safe and effective vaccine,” said Dr Khoo, who treats childhood diseases, allergic diseases and development disorders.
Dr Mohd Iqbal bin M Iyen, Consultant Paediatrician at a private medical centre in Kota Kinabalu, agreed with Professor Dr Khoo, adding that our country is also part of the global trend that reflects continued growth of combination vaccines. “We have a History of Firsts in Malaysia,” said Dr Mohd Iqbal. By 2015, Malaysia was the first of 3 countries in Western Pacific to adopt an all-inactivated polio vaccines (IPV) regime. It has been a natural progression from the 3-in-1 vaccine in 2008 to 5-in-1 in 2010 to the 6-in-1 presently.
The Hexavalent vaccine has been actively used in private health facilities in Malaysia since 2013, with no adverse effects reported in infants receiving this immunization. The Drug Control Authority (DCA) together with the MoH allows a vaccine to be included in the NIP only after it has gone through strict registration, evaluation and approval processes. In addition, large-scale clinical trials, studies and research in countries throughout the globe prove the Hexavalent vaccine safe and effective.
Dr Mohd Iqbal added that general practitioners, paediatricians and the MoH, with the backing of proven science, research and hard statistics, play a crucial role in keeping everyone informed and helping parents protect and keep their children safe. This ultimately strengthens public health.
“Vaccination is the perfect solution as it gives children immunity to VPDs without the children having to fall sick first,” said Dr Mohd Iqbal. “It is a huge gift seeing our government’s health ministry place a vaccine that will save millions of children’s lives on the national immunization schedule. This makes things so easy for parents. It is worth protecting your child with such a vaccine.”
Details on the VPDs the Hexavalent infant vaccine provides protection for are as follows:
Diphtheria – Infection of the throat and nose that can cause breathing difficulties, heart failure, paralysis and death.
Tetanus – Infection of the nervous system that can cause muscle cramps especially in the jaw and neck and often can cause death.
Pertussis (Whooping Cough) – Infection of the respiratory tract that can cause pneumonia, seizures, brain inflammation and death.
Poliomyelitis – Infection of the nervous system that can cause permanent paralysis and can be fatal.
Haemophilus Influenzae Type B – Deadly infection that can cause inflammation of the brain lining, bacterial infections in the blood and pneumonia.
Hepatitis B – Infection of the liver that can cause severe liver damage and lead to cancer.
6 things parents will want to know about the Hexavalent vaccine
Dr Khoo and Dr Mohd Iqbal share 6 things about the Hexavalent vaccine that parents should know when protecting their little ones with the vaccine.
- Protect your child against 6 life-threatening diseases with 1 vaccine. The convenience of added vaccination against Hepatitis B, in addition to the 5 other diseases.
- Fewer injections. Hexavalent is administered to infants with 3 primary doses at the age of 2, 3 and 5 months and one additional dose (booster) at the age of 18 months. Hence, infants require only 5 injections to protect them from these 6 diseases. Previously, infants had to get 7 injections for the same protection as all doses of Hepatitis B were given separately.
- Less stress and discomfort for both child and parent due to lesser injections.
- Time saving and increased convenience. A more simplified vaccination schedule.
- More time for monitoring children’s milestones. More time on doctor appointments for the assessment of infants’ health related to growth of sensory and intellectual development.
- On-time protection. Help parents and healthcare professionals keep children up-to-date on their vaccinations to reduce likelihood of infants missing their shots.
Infant vaccination brings down VPDs
Today, it is widely accepted by medical and health experts globally that infant vaccination is a crucial necessity toward reducing VPDs in children. According to Dr Khoo, it has been proven that childhood immunization contributes toward improved health outcomes whilst reducing expenses on health services.
“Childhood vaccination is simply the most sensible and cost-efficient medical strategy to fight the rise of children’s morbidity and mortality,” said Dr Khoo. “Sadly, despite all our stunning scientific advances, statistics show that VPDs are still going up and children are at risk of contracting serious diseases and their lives threatened.”
Indeed, vaccine is the safer option for a child’s first exposure to disease because the child receives protection without suffering from the actual disease. Immunity is the human body’s way of preventing disease. We human beings are born with an immune system of cells, glands, organs and fluids that is alert to foreign-invading germs that enter the body as antigens. A vaccine targeting a particular disease helps make the immune system produce antibodies that lead to immunity.
The MoH broke new ground when it introduced the NIP in the 1950s by providing free immunization injections to children in Malaysia.
For further information on the Hexavalent 6-in-1 vaccine on the MoH’s NIP, our readers may review Pertukaran Jadual Imunisasi Kebangsaan Untuk Kanak-kanak Susulan Pertukaran kepada Vaksin Enam Serangkai Difteria – Tetanus – Pertussis – Polio – Hepatitis B – Haemophilus Influenza Type B (Hib).
Dr Khoo Phaik Choo, Consultant Paediatrician at a private medical centre in the Klang Valley, treats childhood diseases, allergic diseases and development disorders with procedures focusing on allergy management, developmental milestone screening and assessment, as well as general paediatrics diagnosis and management. Dr Khoo is a member of the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA), the Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA), and the Malaysian Society of Allergy and Immunology (MSAI).
Dr Mohd Iqbal bin M Iyen, Consultant Paediatrician at a private medical centre in Kota Kinabalu, was formerly with Hospital Likas with special interest in Paediatric Hematology and Oncology. He was the winner of the Anugerah Perkhidmatan Cemerlang 2013, Jabatan Kesihatan Negeri Sabah and also won the Young Investigator Award, Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA) Congress 2011.