Pharmacists in Malaysia stressed it is time to update the National Immunisation Programme (NIP) to include pharmacists as vaccination advocates and providers.
The group also urged the government to make vaccination mandatory in a bid to lower the spread of diseases and mortality rates in the country.
Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society (MPS) president Amrahi Buang said community pharmacists are able to reach out to the masses and complement medical practitioners in the private and public primary care sector.
“We would like to empower community pharmacists, allowing them to play a bigger role in serving and taking care of our society,” he said in a statement issued today.
“Vaccination by pharmacists is not new. Of course the pharmacists will have to be trained and undergo a proper programme before they can administer the vaccines. This will not only take a load off other health service providers, including the government, it will also increase vaccine coverage by providing more access to people to get their shots.”
There is growing acceptance of the role of community pharmacist vaccination across the globe. Some 44 per cent of 45 countries surveyed have community pharmacist providing vaccinations. Studies have shown that pharmacist intervention and participation in vaccination programmes have improved vaccination coverage.
Amrahi added MPS was more than ready to provide the government with the implementation and content of the programme.
“Even if we need a pilot study on this matter, MPS can do it,” he said.
“WE PHARMACISTS ARE A PART OF THE HEALTH SYSTEM AND THE COUNTRY AND WE WOULD LIKE TO SERVE THE COUNTRY AND ITS PEOPLE IN ANY WAY POSSIBLE.”
The subject of anti-vaccination has once again emerged as health records show an increase of diseases mainly due to the reduced number of children obtaining the required shots.
The anti-vaccination views by a doctor during a recent television show have further fuelled the debate as anti-vaccine supporters continue to have a misguided belief that vaccination is unsafe.
Over the years, health experts, scientists and even religious leaders have assured the masses that being vaccinated is generally safe and necessary for the greater good in controlling and eradicating diseases and illnesses.
The mufti of Perlis, Perak and Federal Territories have even gone on record to stress the importance of vaccination for the wellbeing of a child.
In 2015 and 2016, the Ministry of Health had engaged with MPS to combat the problem of vaccination gaps. Our stand then was to get the government to make vaccination mandatory for all. However, the decision-makers then were of the view that such a stand was “harsh”.
“Unfortunately, we have seen the number of vaccine preventable diseases rise due to more people avoiding vaccination,” Amrahi said.
In June 2018, the Health Ministry recorded 724 measles cases in the first five months of that year compared to 592 cases in the corresponding period in 2017 – a 22.3 per cent increase.
It was said then that the main contributor to the rise in measles cases was due to low measles, mumps and rubella immunisation coverage.
A recent measles outbreak in the Philippines killed at least 136 people as the number of cases continue to rise as government officials continue to urge parents to have their children protected against measles and other curable diseases through clinically proven vaccines.
The World Health Organization had in January listed vaccine hesitancy as one of the biggest threats to global health this year. The world body said
vaccination is one of the most cost-effective ways of avoiding disease as it prevents two to three million deaths a year while “a further 1.5 million (deaths) could be avoided if global coverage of vaccinations improved.”
“In some nations, vaccinations are mandatory. If a child doesn’t get vaccinated, he or she cannot attend school,” said Amrahi, stressing how serious certain nations are in addressing this matter.
It is compulsory for children in America, Italy and Singapore, among others, to be vaccinated.
He said if Malaysia had made vaccinations mandatory in 2016, the nation could have reduced the number of cases of preventable diseases, including measles.
“IT IS IMPORTANT NOW MORE THAN EVER TO MAKE VACCINATION MANDATORY AS ANTI-VAXXERS CONTINUE TO SHARE AND VIRAL MISLEADING INFORMATION ABOUT VACCINE SAFETY. IT IS EVIDENT THERE IS POOR HEALTH LITERACY AMONG URBAN AND NON-URBAN COMMUNITIES.”
He added: “If we are to achieve the Measles Elimination Programme’s (MEP) target by 2022, which we missed in 2018, we have to modify and improve our approach towards combating vaccination hesitancy.”
“And if we are to ensure vaccine coverage is high during epidemics, pharmacists should be allowed to vaccinate as it reduces the chances of patients missing the window of opportunity to get the vaccine, as it takes time to get appointments at clinics and hospitals due to patient load,” he added.