Medical experts have urged the government to include the rotavirus vaccine in the National Immunisation Programme (NIP) because it is the best way to protect children against the rotavirus disease.
KPJ Damansara Specialist Hospital consultant paediatrician and neonatologist Datuk Dr. Musa Mohd Nordin said globally, rotavirus killed 500,000 children every year, especially in Africa and Asia, and was the cause of millions of hospitalisations and clinic visits.
The rotavirus vaccine, he said, could prevent the most common types of rotavirus infections.
‘The Malaysian Paediatric Association has been championing the inclusion of the rotavirus vaccine in NIP. Seventy-nine countries have introduced the rotavirus vaccine in their NIPs. Malaysia is lagging behind.
‘The issue of permissibility (halal) has been raised by a few.
‘It is pertinent to note that Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Qatar, Morocco, Sudan and Pakistan, have introduced the vaccine in their NIPs,’ he said.
Dr. Musa said the vaccine would be given orally, not as shots, and the two types of rotavirus vaccines in Malaysia had proven to be effective, safe and cost efficient. He said the rotavirus was a common gut virus that was easily contracted and almost every child would be infected with it before age five.
‘The infection may begin with a mild tummy upset, but could quickly lead to dehydration and frequent vomiting and diarrhoea.’ Malaysian Medical Association president Dr. John Chew agreed that parents should vaccinate their children against rotavirus. He said good hygiene and sanitation were also important to prevent the spread of rotavirus.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that rotavirus vaccines be included in NIPs and this was considered a priority, particularly in South Asia, Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
The Health Ministry recently said the rotavirus vaccine would be included in NIP if the mortality rate due to the disease for children aged five and below exceeded 10%.
Health Director-General Datuk Dr. Noor Hisham Abdullah had said WHO, through its Strategic Advisory Group of Experts, had recommended that the rotavirus vaccine be included in NIP if the child mortality rate due to diarrhoea was at 10% or more.
However, the child mortality rate in Malaysia in 2014 was 0.5% and 2.9% in 2015. Dr. Noor Hisham said rotavirus infection in infants and children could lead to severe diarrhoea, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, metabolic acidosis, and death.
Children aged six months to two years, he said, were most vulnerable to infection, as well as premature infants, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.
‘Rotavirus is highly contagious. It spreads through contaminated food and water, and close contact with contaminated faeces. ‘Often, contaminated toys and floor surfaces in nurseries and childcare centres provide ease of rotavirus transmission.
‘Rotavirus can survive on the skin for hours and on surfaces for days. Children are more prone to infection under unhygienic conditions.’
He said those with acute gastroenteritis symptoms, such as diarrhoea, should not swim in public pools as they could put others at risk of infection.
He said if someone had been exposed to rotavirus, it took two to seven days for symptoms, such as diarrhoea, vomiting, fever or abdominal pain, to appear.