PETALING JAYA —A mandatory vaccine regime needs to be introduced for schoolchildren, according to two senior legal and medical practitioners.
Former Medico-Legal Society of Malaysia president S. Radhakrishnan said making vaccination mandatory would be a fair trade-off between ensuring rights of the individual and public interest.
“Generally, no medical treatment should be forced on patients as consent is a cornerstone of medicine.
“That said, there are exceptions. In this case, mandatory vaccinations being in the interest of students and public health,” he said.
Radhakrishnan stressed the need to inform the public thoroughly so as not to make mandatory vaccination appear draconian.
“There should be every effort made to raise public awareness on the benefits of vaccination,” he said.
“Should the parents still decide against vaccination, the state should interfere through statutory intervention for the health of the child and in public interest.”
Radhakrishnan said government involvement in health affairs was not unprecedented as doctors were required to report patients infected with deadly contagious diseases.
“Some argue this is in breach of patient-practitioner confidentiality but it is in the public’s interest. It would not be acceptable to keep quiet if a patient was found to have Ebola.”
He suggested the health and education ministries coordinate an awareness campaign to inform both children and their parents of the benefits of vaccination.
“This can be as simple as fliers distributed to schoolchildren to take home to parents. We need to encourage parents to act in the best interests of their children,” he said.
Malaysian Medical Association president Dr John Chew said the anti-vaccine lobby was fuelled by a dangerous mix of fear, ignorance of disease and how vaccines worked.
“There is a lot of misinformation out there … religious reasons, fear of complications but it is difficult to zero in on what drives opposition to vaccines.
“It would be best to raise concerns with your doctor to make an informed decision and not depend on rumours,” he said.
Former MMA president Dr Ashok Philips said the vaccination programme was a victim of its own success as people did not understand the seriousness of illnesses.
“Some assume that just because they are vaccinated against the most well-known and common diseases, they are safe.
“But just because you have not heard of a disease, does not mean it cannot harm you. People just do not understand how debilitating and deadly these illnesses can be,” he said.
Dr Ashok urged the public to make informed decisions on vaccination and for the authorities to push for an information campaign.
“The best way to counter bad information is with good information. The public must ensure they make informed decisions and the respective ministries must do their part.
“The vaccines are safe, tested and approved for public use under the most stringent conditions and those spreading deliberate misinformation are engaging in irresponsible behaviour,” he said.