On vaccination and the propagation of misinformation ― Hafidz Baharom

DECEMBER 10 ― On December 6 this year, Malaysia saw the reemergence of polio after having zero new cases since 1992 ― 27 years of being in the clear of the virus and here we are, in 2019, dealing with this issue once again.

One of the popular histories told about the polio vaccine is that of Jonas Salk. He created the polio vaccine in the 1950s, and made the patent free. When asked why he didn’t file a patent, thus making what some estimate would have been US$7 billion (RM29.1 billion) in the process, his reply was:

“Can you patent the sun?”

Sure, there aren’t a lot of pharmaceutical companies and doctors who would have come up with a similar statement in this day and age, but polio at the time was viewed with the same seriousness as the plague.

What Malaysia is experiencing is an end to herd immunity, and the reason for this is that we have a minority group who do not believe in vaccines in these modern times. This group is not large per se, but with the advent of the internet, the concept is growing louder than it was in the 1980s and before.

The propagation of messages and causes in this day and age has constantly been a challenge since the advent of social media and the internet. As it has made knowledge transferable on a global scale, it has also done the same for misinformation and conspiracy theories.

Case in point, the anti-vaccination movement, people who believe the earth is flat, people who deny the moon landing, and even the people who believe in the secret societies who are running the world in general.

Who knows, there may even be people who support serving nasi lemak in plastic containers because the paper and banana leaf packaging of yore is a symbol of the Illuminati.

So, how do we deal with such groups, particularly the anti-vaccination crew?

Well, one way to do so is to ban them from applying for government aid. No Bantuan Sara Hidup or BR1M, no child care benefits, no zakat, no access to national or private schools at any level, no access to PTPTN loans, and for government officers and the civil service, no housing benefits or access to child crèches.

In fact, I would go so far as to consider the occupancy of PR1MA projects, the Selangorku housing plan, and even the access to PPRs to be contingent on their kids being vaccinated.

Government policy should make it exceptionally clear that we do need to vaccinate kids who are not allergic, in order to maintain herd immunity. And more importantly, the government needs to view the propagation of anti-vaccination mentality seriously.

In 2017, I did raise this question in a debate between Syed Saddiq and Zaidel Baharuddin somewhere in Subang Jaya, I can’t recall. And this was the question I asked - how do you deal with the rising anti-vaccination groups which will be a threat in the future?

And here is where we are now.

The answers were of course in the line of more education versus legislation to make it punishable by law and the withdrawal of government benefits as mentioned above. If both parties still remember what they said, I hope they put their words back then into practice.

But more importantly so, we do need the royal families to speak up merely because some of those anti-vaccination members are in fact posing as religious figures. So, this humble member of the public would like to ask them to speak up and ask their respective Mentri Besar’s how to make it a statewide policy for state government aid and zakat.

Malaysia needs to redo it’s herd immunity concept, which means the federal government, state governments, the royals, the local councils, need to act together in order to ensure its implementation once again and counter the disrupting voices.

Then, hopefully, we can have zero new cases of polio in 2020, and hopefully move forward with better healthcare plans and policies to ensure it remains there longer than 27 years.

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

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