Parent groups object to school vaccination laws

Shamsudin said that parents’ rights must not be infringed. — Reuters pic
Shamsudin said that parents’ rights must not be infringed. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, March 7 — Several parent groups oppose making vaccinations mandatory for children entering school, claiming the right to parental choice.

Concerned Parents of Selangor coordinator Shamsudin Hamid said he generally supported calls for children’s vaccination, but objected to legislation making it compulsory.

“Final choice to be in hands of parents, period,” Shamsudin told Malay Mail.

When pointed out that unvaccinated children posed a public health risk in schools, Shamsudin said school or health authorities could explain to parents the benefits of vaccination and dangers of not immunising their child.

“Then they decide. My point is that the principle of parents’ rights must not be infringed,” he said.

He added that he found Education Minister Maszlee Malik’s comments about vaccinations and access to education are “perplexing, which is the normal case, whenever he opens his mouth”, as he did not see any connection between the two.

Maszlee said in a statement on Wednesday that vaccines and the right to education were two different things, pointing out that vaccinations were under the Health Ministry whereas the Education Ministry believed that all Malaysian children had the right to education without discrimination.

National newswire Bernama quoted Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as saying last Friday that the government was studying a proposal to only allow vaccinated children to enroll into school, due to a rise in preventable diseases like measles and diphtheria and a fall in vaccination rates.

Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye said recently that measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination rate stood at 89 per cent in 2018, lower than the required 95 per cent for herd immunity.

All states in the United States have legislation requiring vaccinations for children entering school, but almost all states permit exemptions for religious reasons. Philosophical exemptions on personal or moral beliefs are also allowed in 17 states.

Malacca Action Group for Parents in Education chairman Mak Chee Kin also said unvaccinated children should not be prevented from going to school, but called for imprisonment of parents who refused to immunise their child.

“Yes, we should made vaccination mandatory for parents to vaccinate their kids. But children cannot be denied education due to the failure of their parents to do so because of the myth or religious beliefs,” Mak told Malay Mail.

“Heavy punishment should be meted out like a jail sentence. But before this, efforts must be made to educate parents of the benefits and need to get their kids vaccinated and the punishment for failing to do so.”

Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) chair Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said: “PAGE has taken the stand that no matter how much we encourage and believe that all children should take the highly recommended vaccinations, we stand by parental choice.”

She stressed the need for parents to be well informed about the repercussions of not vaccinating their child before making a decision.

Noor Azimah added that some vaccines like MMR should be made mandatory, but not all vaccines, including the HPV vaccine for cervical cancer.

“Feedback, public responses from US not encouraging. So prefer for it to settle,” she said, referring to the HPV vaccine.