Vaccines licensed here meet safety standards

MOH’s Reply

Straits Times, 26 Apr 2014

WE THANK Ms Estella Young ("Inoculate ourselves against culture of vaccine denial"; last Saturday), Dr Leong Choon Kit ("Measles: Guard against complacency"; Tuesday) and Ms Li Dan Yue ("Educate parents on measles risk"; Forum Online, Tuesday) for their feedback, which emphasised the importance of measles vaccination in conferring on our children effective protection against the disease.

We reassure the public that all vaccines licensed in Singapore meet safety, quality and efficacy requirements and are monitored closely for side effects. Many scientific studies have found no link between childhood vaccines and autism, a view supported by the World Health Organisation.

The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccination is recommended under the National Childhood Immunisation Schedule for the prevention of measles.

Parents should take their young children for both doses of MMR vaccination on time. MMR vaccinations are fully subsidised at polyclinics and, since June 1 last year, parents may also use Medisave for their children's MMR vaccinations at private general practitioner and paediatric clinics.

In Singapore, it is compulsory for parents and guardians to have their children vaccinated against measles. Proof of vaccination is required for enrolment into childcare centres. Vaccination certificates must also be submitted as part of primary school registration.

Such measures have been effective in keeping the risk of a community outbreak of measles low among those vaccinated.

As direct caregivers, parents are in the best position to ensure that their young children are vaccinated on time. Where appropriate, the Government proactively plays a supportive role by educating, encouraging and reminding parents to fulfil this responsibility in their child's best interest.

The National Immunisation Registry, maintained by the Health Promotion Board, for instance, will send a reminder letter to the parents if a child misses any vaccination.

Through such cooperation between parents and the health authorities, we have kept the MMR vaccination coverage among Singapore residents consistently high at 95 per cent over the years. We will continue to emphasise to parents the importance of ensuring that our young are given the best protection against measles through vaccination.

Jeffery Cutter (Dr)

Director, Communicable Diseases Division

Ministry of Health


K. Vijaya (Dr)

Director, Youth Preventive Services Division & School Health and Outreach Division,

Health Promotion Board

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Straits Times, 19 April 2014

Inoculate ourselves against culture of vaccine denial

IT IS alarming that the number of measles cases in Singapore this year is almost double that for the whole of last year ("23 S'poreans infected by Philippine measles outbreak"; Sunday).

Half of those infected locally this year were young children who were not vaccinated. Have parents been influenced by the anti-vaccination hysteria among segments of Western society?

Posts on local online forums claim that vaccines cause autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, sudden infant death syndrome, cancer and other illnesses. Some even assert that those whose immune systems have not been "poisoned" by vaccines are less likely to fall ill.

These netizens encourage parents to flout the law, assuring them that no one has been prosecuted for refusing the compulsory vaccinations against measles and diphtheria. They also claim that unvaccinated children will not be denied entry to public schools, despite the Ministry of Education requiring immunisation certificates to be shown as part of the Primary 1 registration process.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) should consider stepping up public education on its vaccination policies, or even barring children who have not been vaccinated for purely social reasons from being enrolled in childcare centres and schools.

Perhaps the success of Singapore's public health system has lulled some into a dangerous sense of complacency about communicable diseases that can cause death or permanent disability. They do not seem to understand that the herd immunity conferred by universal vaccination is the only way to protect the members of our society who are too young or too sick to be vaccinated.

Even if parents are willing to gamble with their children's lives, they should not be allowed to put others at risk.

Can the MOH comment on whether vaccination rates have dropped significantly in recent years? Is anti-vaccine activism gaining ground locally?

Anti-vaccine activism in Western countries has resulted in the resurgence of formerly rare diseases and unnecessary deaths in recent years.

As a densely populated country with open borders, Singapore must act swiftly to inoculate itself against a culture of vaccine denial.

Estella Young (Ms)

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Straits Times, 22 April 2014

Measles: Guard against complacency

I WAS saddened to read about how some parents in Vietnam were taken in by baseless claims about vaccination side effects, leaving their children uninoculated and vulnerable to the potentially deadly measles infection ("Measles outbreak kills over 100 in Vietnam"; last Saturday).

An outbreak of the magnitude seen in Vietnam is not impossible in Singapore, though it is unlikely because of our higher vaccination rate and, thus, stronger herd immunity against the measles virus. However, there is no room for complacency.

We are a small city-state where people live very close to one another. This will aid the spread of the virus.

We are also a very cosmopolitan nation. We have tens of thousands of overseas visitors daily, increasing the chances of the virus being imported into our country. There may also be uninoculated foreigners living, studying and working here.

As with all information on the Internet, it is not possible to totally remove baseless claims about the side effects of vaccinations.

We are a highly wired nation and our population is very Internet-savvy. Sadly, there are those among us who are buying into these claims.

Measles may seem like an innocuous infection with few consequences. However, its complications, such as pneumonia, encephalitis and permanent ear damage caused by ear infections, are very devastating. And if a pregnant woman contracts measles, her baby runs the risk of having cardiac malformations.

Measles vaccination is effective. According to the World Health Organisation, measles vaccination has resulted in a 78 per cent drop in deaths between 2000 and 2012 worldwide.

Let us not become complacent and fall prey to fraudulent claims found on the Internet. We can start by checking our children's health records to make sure their vaccinations are updated.

Leong Choon Kit (Dr)

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Straits Times, 22 April 2014

Educate parents on measles risk

I AM concerned that half of those infected with measles locally this year were young children who were not vaccinated ("23 S'poreans infected by Philippine measles outbreak"; April 13).

Parents should be educated on the seriousness of measles, which can lead to pneumonia, brain damage, deafness or even death.

Measles is transmitted when an infected person sneezes or coughs, and fine droplets containing the virus get into other people's noses or throats when they breathe. The disease is highly contagious as one can catch it from an infected person even before the rash appears.

About 150,000 to 175,000 people die from measles each year around the world, mostly in countries where children are not vaccinated.

The risks of contracting measles can be very high for uninoculated people who travel abroad, as the disease is common in places such as Europe and Africa.

Parents should be informed that the online claim that the measles vaccine causes autism is unfounded. Studies in the United States and other countries have found no link.

In Britain, children who are not properly vaccinated against measles face temporary exclusion from schools and childcare.

Children too young to be vaccinated rely on the herd immunity of their community to keep them safe from deadly diseases, but as more people are not vaccinated, the herd immunity can drop to a level where it no longer offers protection.

There should be public education campaigns, targeted at parents, about the great risks that measles poses to both their children and the wider community.

Li Dan Yue (Ms)

 

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