Sun, 10 Dec 2023



Govt should consider free flu shots for 60-yr-olds
Published on: Sunday, August 27, 2023
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Studies show that vaccinations help to reduce incidences of cardiovascular events, need for hospital admission and mortality among older persons. - pix for illustration purposes only by Freepik
INFLUENZA causes a heavy burden of disease among the elderly, and is a matter of concern among healthcare professionals.

Malaysia is an ageing nation, with more than 3.8 million people older than 60, or about 11.3 per cent of the population. By 2030, this figure will increase to over 15 per cent.

The Health Ministry reports that, as of the 23rd Epidemiological Week, there had been 93 influenza clusters reported nationwide, an increase of 210 per cent from the same period last year.

Hospitals are getting full due to rising influenza cases. This tells us that influenza is everywhere and presents a very real threat to older people.

This is why the Malaysian Influenza Working Group (under the Malaysian Society of Infectious Diseases & Chemotherapy) in collaboration with the Malaysian Society of Geriatric Medicine, supported by the Malaysian Alliance for the Prevention of Influenza (MyAPI), have started a petition calling for free influenza vaccinations for older persons.

This petition is important because influenza can be fatal, especially among older persons, because:

1. THEIR waning immune system is less able to fight infections, and a single influenza infection can have a devastating effect on an older person.

The immune system gradually deteriorates with ageing — the immunosenescence process — making it more difficult to respond to infections and hence one is more likely to experience severe complications from influenza, like pneumonia, hospitalisation and death.

Up to 85 per cent of all influenza-related deaths occur in those aged 65 and above.

2. THEY are more likely to have existing health problems, and influenza affects those with chronic conditions more severely.

Diabetes and high cholesterol become more common with age. In people with diabetes, influenza can make it harder to control blood sugar levels, in some cases allowing it to become dangerously high.

The risk of dying from influenza is five times higher among those with heart disease and 20 times higher for those with heart and lung disease.

3. SOUTHEAST Asia is ranked third globally for the number of influenza-related deaths but only two to three per cent of Malaysians are vaccinated against influenza.

This is due to a variety of reasons, including low awareness, lack of urgency and unwillingness to bear the cost of influenza vaccines. Many Malaysians are not protected against this virus that circulates year-round.

Influenza vaccinations can save lives.

Studies show that vaccinations help to reduce incidences of cardiovascular events, need for hospital admission and mortality among older persons.

Furthermore, influenza vaccinations for high-risk groups are cost-effective.

Managing influenza and its complications absorbs a lot of healthcare resources, with direct and indirect costs increasing with age and the need for hospitalisation, not to mention the loss of productivity.

For Malaysia, a cost-benefit analysis estimated that influenza vaccinations would result in net savings of RM313 for each vaccinated older person and net savings of RM3,565 per life-year gained.

I applaud the government on its recent announcement to consider vaccinations for high-risk groups.

I also urge the government to provide free, life-saving influenza vaccinations for those aged 60 and above.

Many nations, including Australia, South Korea, Mexico and Thailand, have done so.

Datuk DR Christopher K.C. Lee

Member, Infectious Disease Specialists Subcommittee, National Specialist Register; Former Deputy Director General of Health (Research & Technical Support) & Former National Adviser on Infectious Diseases, Health Ministry.

- The views expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Express.

- If you have something to share, write to us at: [email protected]



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