Vaccination aims to prevent epidemics in our country, and should not just be about our own preference.
EVERYONE wants the best for their children. In this age where information is readily accessible, we can always refer to social media to find out what would be “the best” for our children.
The problem is, how can we be sure that information obtained from social media is accurate and true?
Many would readily accept the information “as is”, using the argument that “people would not share it if it is not true”.
In Malaysia, anti-vaccination opinions seemed to gather some traction circa 2012, partly due to social media. A few personalities have also come on board, proudly announcing that they do not vaccinate their children.
One of the popular arguments put forward by the anti-vaccination movement is that measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism. This argument is based on a scientific paper authored by Andrew Wakefield and 12 co-authors in the renowned British medical journal Lancet in 1998. The authors claimed that possible environmental triggers, i.e. the MMR vaccine, were “associated with the onset of gastrointestinal disease and developmental regression”.
This “fact” is shared by proponents of anti-vaccination as proof for their argument. Unfortunately, when the paper was retracted by Lancet in 2010, no one seems to have bothered to share this development.
Wakefield was found to have falsified the data used in his study, breached a number of ethical guidelines and had his medical licence revoked.
However, the damage was done. In part due to this article, many parents opted not to vaccinate their children for fear of autism.
Some even argued that vaccination is a part of a bigger conspiracy to enrich pharmaceutical companies. Engrossed with conspiracy theories, we sometimes turn a blind eye to a number of established scientific facts.
Vaccination is a form of preventive medicine, and not a cure or treatment. In an article entitled “Vaccination: A Personal Choice?” published on April 27 this year in The Malaysian Medical Gazette, Dr Kamal Amzan highlighted an often-neglected fact.
He wrote: “Most modern parents have never seen the devastating effects that diseases like polio, measles and whooping cough (pertussis) can have on a family or community.”
While these diseases have been “eradicated”, it does not mean that they no longer exist. Anti-vaccination parents risk the return of these diseases, causing big problems to not just the health authority but to the community and nation.
Vaccination is a preventive measure to keep these diseases at bay.
The concept of al-wiqayah khairun min al-‘ilaj (prevention is better than cure) is very much in line with Islamic teaching.
Islamic legal maxims highlight that “deeds are judged by their goals and purposes.” Vaccination is carried out to prevent a greater harm, to ensure that there is no outbreak of diseases that will pose a great health risk to the community at large.
This ties in to another Islamic legal maxim that “harm must be eliminated”.
All these are very much in line with the higher objectives of shariah, in which two of the objectives is the need to protect lives (hifz al-nafs) and protect the progeny (hifz al-nasl).
Vaccination is often associated with Edward Jenner, who successfully developed the smallpox vaccine in 1798. As such, some have the perception that vaccination is a “western agenda”.
Historically speaking, the practice of vaccination can be traced back to the Chinese author Wan Quan in 1549. Inoculation for smallpox, using powdered smallpox scabs, was widely practised during the era of the Longqing emperor of the Ming Dynasty.
Historical documents show that the Turkish Uthmaniah (Ottoman) Empire also practised vaccination.
The Uthmaniah inoculation process was introduced to Britain in 1721 by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who was the wife of the British ambassador to Constantinople.
She herself had her five-year-old son inoculated against smallpox in 1718 when they were in Constantinople. When she returned to London in 1721, she had her daughter undergo the same procedure, this time administered by Charles Maitland, during a smallpox epidemic in Britain.
In the 15th century, Turkish polymath Syeikh Aq Shamsuddin wrote that there was a misconception that diseases “attack” humans on their own. What in fact happens, according to him, is that diseases are transmitted from one person to another.
Partly due to this understanding as to how bacteria infect humans, the army of Sultan Muhammad al-Fateh underwent preventive measures to ensure that they were not prone to infectious diseases during wartime.
Today, it is imperative that we all remember that vaccination is a preventive measure to minimise the risk of an epidemic.
Parents who choose not to vaccinate are putting the health of other children at risk.
When the number of unvaccinated children increases above a certain point, we will begin to see preventable diseases, and also eradicated diseases, returning to the community.
Those who refuse to vaccinate may argue that it is their personal right by exercising their autonomy to decide.
But does an individual’s autonomy take precedence over public interest, especially when it comes to public health? This is something that we should think about very seriously.
We want the best for our children. At the same time, we have to be certain that what we consider to be “the best health option” for our children does not present a health risk to other people’s children. Other parents also want the best for their children. Dr Shaikh Mohd Saifuddeen Shaikh Mohd Salleh is Senior Fellow at Ikim’s Centre for Science and Environment Studies. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own. The STAR Home News Opinion Columnist 14 July 2015