Why Flu Vaccination Is Crucial For The Elderly, Children and Pregnant Mothers

A flu infection is different from a cold, and it's way more risky.

Do you know that your immune system is weaker when you’re pregnant, and you’re more likely to get influenza infection at this point due to its contagious nature? Influenza isn’t just dangerous for the mother but it can affect the baby too, right until 6 months of age. That’s why flu protection for children should begin in pregnancy. Having flu during pregnancy also increases the chances of miscarriages, stillbirth, pre-term birth, and low birth weight.

Read: Everything You Should Know About a C-Section

The good news is vaccination during pregnancy has been shown to be safe and protects both mother and baby throughout this sensitive period and up to several months after birth.

“That is precisely why it’s important for everyone, specifically pregnant mothers, children and senior citizens should get immunised for influenza every year,” said Respiratory Institute chairman Dr Nurhayati Marzuki during the Flu Prevention Is An Act of Love campaign launched by Immunise4Life (IFL) patron Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali.

(from left) Dr Zulkifli, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah and Dr Nurhayati.

The campaign organised by Immunise4Life (IFL), in association with the Malaysian Influenza Working Group (MIWG) and the Vaccination is Protection (VIP) initiative, is a major community education programme involving the collaboration of Ministry of Health Malaysia (MOH), Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA), and Malaysian Society of Infectious Diseases & Chemotherapy (MSIDC).

Dr Siti Hasmah urged Malaysian families to protect their most vulnerable members ­– young children and ageing parents – from the dangers of influenza (the flu) by getting them vaccinated against the disease.

She pointed out that the flu was particularly dangerous to pregnant women, children under 5 years old, adults over 65, and people with health conditions (like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease).

She said it was vital for everyone in these high-risk groups to get vaccinated against the flu, adding that she and her husband, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, make it a point to get their flu vaccinations every year.

“It’s really important for the children to talk about the importance of the flu vaccination to the aged, their parents. Once they have understood the why, they will know it’s an act of love,” she explained.

Meanwhile IFL Technical Committee Chairman Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail said many individuals do not see the need to vaccinate because they confuse the flu (caused by influenza viruses) with the common cold (caused by rhinovirus and other viruses), and it was a mistake because, unlike the cold which is harmless, the flu can kill.

“Both infections share similar symptoms, like a cough, sore throat, and runny nose.  Trouble is, people fail to realise they have the flu when other symptoms emerge – such as, fever, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue, vomiting and sometime, diarrhoea.

“Some infected persons may overcome the flu and recover, but others may not.  Owing to their age and pre-existing health conditions, they may develop severe illness and potentially fatal complications including inflammation of the lungs (pneumonia), heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis) or muscle tissues (myositis), and multi-organ failure,” he explained.

According to MIWG chairman Professor Dr Zamberi Sekawi: 

  • Older persons account for 90% of all flu-related deaths.  Their lungs and immune systems have weakened with age, thus making them susceptible to secondary infections, like pneumonia.  Those with certain chronic health conditions are also more likely to develop a stroke, heart attack, diabetic emergencies, and respiratory failure as a result of the flu.  Getting vaccinated would significantly reduce their risk of flu and shape a more optimistic outlook for our senior citizens.
  •  Flu viruses are constantly mutating and tend to circulate during the winter months in temperate countries before quickly spreading to the rest of the world, thanks to the millions of travellers who traverse the globe each day.  Getting a flu vaccination every year helps ensure we are protected from the latest circulating viruses.

Did you know?

The World Health Organisation estimates that about 1 billion flu cases occur every year, of which 3 to 5 million are severe, and result in up to 650,000 deaths worldwide.