Health & Safety

Anti-Vaccination: Are You Pro-Life or Pro-Choice?

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What is anti-vaccination?

Anti-vaccination, or anti-vax, is a movement against vaccination for a wide variety of reasons, such as that it causes a wide range of health problems, it’s against religion, or it violates individual rights to medical decisions.


Why is anti-vaccination an issue now?

Malaysia is seeing an alarming rise of people against vaccination: 470 in 2013 to 1,292 in 2014 and 1,054 as of May this year. As a result, children are getting sick and dying from preventable diseases:

   2014       2015    2016  (so far)
Diphteria 2 8 12
Measles 221 1318 873
Pertussis (whooping cough)  497 939 163

A three-year-old boy died in Sabah last week from diphteria, marking the third such death in Malaysia this year.


What are the anti-vaccination arguments and are they true?

#1: Vaccines contain harmful ingredients.

Thiomersal (or thimerosal) was commonly used in vaccines as a preservative. However, when concerns grew about exposing infants to thiomersal which contains mercury, the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) conducted a study in 1999 and found no evidence that the presence of thiomersal was harmful in childhood vaccines. If you are concerned, you may check with your paediatrician.

Aluminum gels or salts are used to help the body build a stronger immunity against the germ in the vaccine. Studies have proven that no significant risk is posed to infants. Aluminium is also present in breast milk, infant formula, and water.


#2: Vaccines are not halal.

Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Hilmi Yahaya has assured that “all vaccines are halal or permissible in Islam and does not contain pig DNA.”


#3: Vaccines cause autism.

Scores of studies have been conducted on the link between mercury and autism as well as other neurodevelopmental disorders. In 2004, the Institute of Medicine concluded that there is no definitive link, but recommended the removal of thiomersal from vaccines as a safety precaution. The use of thiomersal in vaccines has been phased out since the 90s and is present only in certain types of flu shots. If you are concerned, you may check with your paediatrician.

A 1998 prolific research by British author Dr. Andrew Wakefield linking autism to childhood vaccines has since been discredited. He was found to have falsified data and received a 6-figure sum from a pharmaceutical company that was preparing to sue vaccine manufacturers.


#4: Vaccines cause a variety of diseases.

Multiple studies have shown that:

Hepatitis B vaccinations do not cause multiple sclerosis.

DTaP vaccines (diphteria, tetanus, and pertussis) do not cause Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and in fact shows a decreased risk.

And Shaken Baby Syndrome is well, caused by shaking your baby.


#5: Vaccination overloads my child’s immune system.

From the moment babies are born, they are exposed to a host of bacterias and viruses on a daily basis from eating food, breathing contaminated air, or putting their hands in their mouths. They get some antibodies from their mothers but this only lasts a few months and they do not get antibodies against diphtheria, whooping cough, polio, tetanus, hepatitis B, or Hib.

Vaccinating your babies expose them only to ‘imitated infections’ – weakened or killed versions of the germs and viruses – which trigger the development of antibodies. Getting multiple vaccinations at once may be less traumatising for the baby, and is recommended in order to protect them from diseases from as young as possible.


#6: Vaccinating is not natural.

Naturally-acquired immunity from having the disease itself can be dangerous and potentially fatal. Immunity acquired from vaccinations is just as effective.  Your baby may develop a fever after receiving a dose of vaccination, but it is a side effect with an extremely low risk compared to being exposed to potentially dangerous infections from the environment.


#7: Vaccination is a conspiracy.

Do pharmaceutical companies and doctors stand to make a lot of money from selling vaccines?

The vaccine industry has struggled for decades. Profit margins were low and it attracted very little investment for research & development because the creation of a vaccine takes up to 15 years and is only administered once a year or in a lifetime. The number of vaccination manufacturers dropped steadily since the 70s – companies were selling off their vaccine divisions or stopped producing them altogether. Combine high production costs and low returns with tight regulations, it is an arena that many pharmaceutical companies are hesitant to step into.

While the vaccine industry is likely to be more profitable now, the reason why vaccines continue to be manufactured is simply for one reason – there is a demand. Thanks to vaccines, the smallpox, which has no cure, was eradicated in 1979.


#8: Vaccination is my choice and doesn’t affect anyone but my child.

Wrong. A child who has not been vaccinated and has contracted a disease could infect other children who have not been immunised. This risks the spread of the disease, which could lead to severe, even fatal consequences. ‘Herd immunity‘, a community where a large portion is immunised, can contain the spread or even altogether eliminate a disease.

Credit: The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)



Countless studies have proven the effectiveness of vaccines and discredited claimed side effects but the anti-vaccine movement has been continuously bolstered by allegations of Muslim population control by Westerners and celebrated anti-vaxxer Jenny McCarthy.

Heated discussions are rising again in Malaysia and cyberspace, with some vaccination advocates unfortunately bordering on bullying. Here are some suggested management methods:

  • Experts say ‘don’t call them dumb’. When you are perceived to be attacking their values, people will only get defensive – after all, they are only looking out for the best interests of their children.
  • Take some time to listen to their concerns instead of throwing information at them. If they’ve been heard, they’ll listen to you.
  • Remember that some parents may not have equal access to education and information. Even a quick Google search on ‘are vaccines halal’ present a website as the first result claiming that vaccines contain aborted fetuses, animal serum, pus, cancer cells, and is a Western conspiracy.
  • Use the ‘show, don’t tell’ method – emphasise on the dangers of the diseases that their children could contract if they are not vaccinated.