Words of the President – Remember to vaccinate the adults
While countries around the world have vaccination schedules for infants and children alike, very few stop to think about vaccination for adults, said Professor Zamberi Sekawi.
The message, that vaccination isn’t merely for children, is one that Zamberi in his capacity as current president of the Malaysian Society of Infectious Diseases and Chemotherapy (MSIDC) is trying to ingrain into the minds of the society at large. The society, which was formed in 1987, works chiefly among healthcare professionals. Zamberi, said: “Our [society’s] focus is on education, awareness and advocacy—chiefly among the healthcare professionals and then among the public.”
The society works to achieve its aims (of educating healthcare professionals) chiefly by organizing conferences, symposia and scientific meetings. By educating the healthcare professionals, it is hoped they will then help to spread the awareness and information on to the patients and laypersons. With this as their driving force, MSIDC embarked on an ongoing campaign, together with the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA), called the Immunise4Life (IFL), which is an expert-driven community education initiative to promote immunization for all ages against vaccine-preventable diseases. IFL aims to enable the continual promotion of immunization for all ages. It further seeks to develop a perpetual web-based resource for the nation and to pave the way for the cultivation of an e-community of pro-vaccination advocates.
IFL’s communication objectives include raising the awareness of vaccine-preventable diseases and emphasizing childhood immunization. Additionally, IFL also functions to promote general and gender specific adult vaccination and advocating immunization for special groups eg, the elderly, those travelling to less developed regions and those travelling to places with disease outbreak. Even in 2012 IFL was already anticipating and working to desensitizing the public against issues and concerns that may result in vaccine refusal. These include false information and religious misinformation being propagated by certain individuals for their selfish gains.
In 2017, the Vaxin Check for Adults programme was launched, which is the country’s first dedicated adult vaccination promotion programme. It serves to bring awareness to the importance of adult vaccination. The programme is a collaboration between MSIDC, MMA, and Sanofi Pasteur and features an online adult vaccination clinic directory. Each clinic listed in the directory is properly counselled and informed about adult vaccination and its importance. Patients can go to https://immunise4life.my/vaxincheck/ to look for a clinic closest to their location. Zamberi said: “We want people to know that vaccination is not just for the children. We have to change that perception (that it’s only for children) and to let patients and doctors know vaccination is important for adults, too.”
The society has launched a guideline on adult vaccination which is provided free of charge by contacting MSIDC’s secretariat at
MSIDC hits 30, more work to be done
The society hit its 30th anniversary last year (2017) and since its establishment in 1987, the society has been continuously striving to fulfill its objective, which is to facilitate the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge in the field of infectious diseases and chemotherapy. According to Zamberi, there was no professional body looking into issues and matters pertaining to infectious diseases, hence, MSIDC was established to fulfill this need.
In the time since its inception, the society has affiliated itself with the International Society of Chemotherapy for Infection and Cancer (ISC) and the Asia Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infection (APSCMI). As their name implies, the ISC is an international body while the APSCMI is the regional body governing topics pertaining to infectious diseases and chemotherapy. In the local setting, MSIDC works closely with the Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA), where both complement each other—one works with adults and the other, with children. Both societies place great importance in the topic of vaccination and is one the key areas the focus on.
Among the milestones achieved by the society was the hosting of the Western Pacific Congress of Chemotherapy and Infectious Diseases (WPCCID) in 1989, 1998 and 2014. The WPCCID later changed its name to the Asia Pacific Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infection (APCCMI). Additionally, the International Congress of Infectious Diseases in 2008 was also held in Kuala Lumpur and was hosted by MSIDC.
As far as local conferences go, Zamberi said the society holds annual scientific meetings during its Annual General Meeting and once in every 5 years, the society holds a grander meeting where the members meet to gauge emerging threats and disease patterns. The annual meetings are held at different locations each year to enable the members in different states to get a chance to attend. “This year’s conference will be help in April (this month) and will take place in Port Dickson, Negri Sembilan. We just had our 5-yearly scientific meeting last year in Royale Chulan, Petaling Jaya,” said Zamberi.
As the field of infectious diseases and chemotherapy is so vast, the society has decided to place more focus on specific issues—such as immunization; and on certain diseases, such as influenza and multidrug resistant organisms related to antibiotic misuse. To handle these issues, MSIDC engages their members to form interest groups within the society. “These interest groups function rather independently but still under the auspices of the MSIDC—they have their own activities and objectives on how to handle these issues." The stakeholders in these interest groups can come from the MOH, experts in the private sector, doctors anduniversities. Hopefully, having such interest groups will allow better execution of activities and achievement of target goals, said Zamberi.
Stop the anti-vaccine misinformation
MIMS’s consumer publication, HealthToday, ran an article in 2016 debunking many of the myths being propagated by anti-vaccination proponents or anti-vaxxers. Part of the damage done to vaccination was due to Dr Andrew Wakefield, of UK. He was a former gastroenterologist and medical researcher who fraudulently associated the measles. Mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine with autism. His claims were debunked when other researchers could not reproduce his findings nor confirm his hypothesis (of an association between MMR vaccination and autism).
According to Professor Zulkifli Ismail, who was interviewed at the time, said: “The research methodology used by him was deeply flawed, irreproducible, even fraudulent, and the paper was thoroughly discredited. So, there is no question as to whether he is right – he isn’t, and he is even barred from practicing in the UK, his own country.” Zulkifli is a consultant paediatrician and paediatric cardiologist.
Zulfikli added: “There are many research papers, published in respectable journals, which have demonstrated that vaccines do not cause autism. The autism claims are all based on a single paper that has been thoroughly discredited over the years. Which would you rather believe?”