Vaccination, education, and smoking — Hafidz Baharom

MARCH 8 — In the past week, news has come out that the government, initially being gung-ho in making vaccination mandatory for children in public schools, is now reversing the decision. Among the excuses being that the government does not want to infringe on parental rights as well as the right to education.

I believe neither of these are infringed upon by making it mandatory for students in public and government-funded institutions. Parents can still have their right to not vaccinate their kids, and their kids still have their right to an education — but they cannot on the government’s dime.

The right to an education is not impugned simply by not letting anti-vaccinated children to school because there are other options, be it private education or home-schooling. The parents have a choice of either of these.

Similarly, if the belief of parents not to immunise their kids is due to wanting to go for private healthcare vaccinations compared to the ones provided in government schools, this is not a hard issue — it can simply be solved by a letter from said private healthcare institution confirming vaccination.

At the same time, it does no impinge on parental rights at all — parents can decide not to vaccinate their kids, but not compromise everyone else’s child in the same mentality that we now ban smokers due to health concerns by making them walk three metres away from any eatery.

For two ministers — Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Education Minister Maszlee Malik — to think of individual rights rather than the right of society to be safeguarded, shows a difference in political thought when compared to Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad.

I was actually surprised that a medical doctor believes that non-vaccinated children should be allowed into schools and compromise the herd immunity.

Do we put the rights of an individual ahead of society? For the topic of healthcare, particularly on the issue of vaccinations, I believe we should look towards the rights of society as a collective first.

One can only push for so much education on vaccines before wanting to secure the safety of the people through exclusionary measures — yet again, I take the example of smoking.

Everyone knows that smoking is bad for the individual health, while some who have not read the Salon article still believes that second-hand cigarette smoke will impact the health of those around smokers.

To educate on this, the government has placed multiple gory pictures on every single box of cigarettes sold in Malaysia. Has it stopped smokers? No. The government has also decided to ban smoking from all restaurants and cafes, now enforcing the need to move three metres away.

Malls have also isolated smokers to smoking zones or in the case of Ikano Power Centre in Damansara Perdana, a smoking garden.

So, in comparison, why is it so difficult to implement a similar policy on non-vaccinated children?

If parents are saying the child is innocent, it is true — but the parents are not. Thus the phrase “the sins of the father are borne by the son”.

Forgive me for being crass but personally I view letting non-vaccinated children into public schools as the threat equivalent of a parent arming their kid like a suicide bomber and then taking no responsibility when the school blows up.

Even in that scenario, education can only go so far without exclusionary action.

The science is clear on this matter. There is no longer time to educate the public before taking actions to exclude these medical time bombs from infecting other children, especially when social media is littered with anti-vaccination campaigners that are protected under “the freedom of speech”.

Thus, perhaps both Dr Wan Azizah and Maszlee should stop dithering about an individual’s rights and parental rights — neither are compromised by this medical security issue. What is compromised so far, however, is the belief of a Pakatan Harapan government knowing better and actually having a united front in making a policy that is guaranteed to keep children in public schools safe.

**This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.