Free Flu Shots For M'sian Seniors Starting 2025 — Why This Vaccination Is Vital For Them

Getting vaccinated not only protects individuals but also helps reduce the burden on our healthcare system.

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You may or may not be aware that influenza is far more than just a seasonal inconvenience — it is a serious illness that goes beyond the common flu

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For older adults, it can be deadly. As we age, our immune systems weaken, making us more susceptible to serious complications from influenza. Unlike younger, healthier individuals, older adults might not show just typical flu symptoms. Instead, they could experience a decline in overall health or an increased risk of falls.

Recently, the Ministry of Health announced that starting 2025, older adults in Malaysia will receive free annual flu shots under the National Immunisation Programme. This move comes after a vigorous campaign by the Malaysian Influenza Working Group (MIWG) and partner organisations, highlighting the critical need to protect our senior citizens from the severe impacts of influenza.

To put things in perspective, a single case of influenza among the elderly can increase their risk of a heart attack by 10 times and a stroke by eight times¹

Older individuals are also at higher risk for complications like pneumonia, heart inflammation, and sepsis. Alarmingly, up to 70% of influenza-related hospitalisations and 85% of influenza-related deaths occur in those aged 65 and above.² ³

For older adults with preexisting conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, or pulmonary disease, the risks are even higher. The presence of more than one non-communicable disease (NCD) can increase the risk of influenza-related death by up to 20 times.⁴

Countries like Thailand, Laos, the Philippines, and Singapore have already implemented free influenza vaccination programmes for their elderly populations

While we eagerly anticipate similar measures in Malaysia, I urge everyone to take proactive steps now. The influenza virus circulates year-round in tropical climates like ours, and Southeast Asia ranks third in influenza-related deaths. Yet, only 2-3% of Malaysians are vaccinated against influenza.⁵

The influenza vaccine has been available since 1945, with extensive research supporting its safety. Getting vaccinated not only protects individuals but also helps reduce the burden on our healthcare system.

Despite its benefits, a recent IPSOS survey revealed that many older Malaysians hold misconceptions about the influenza vaccine

For instance, 52% believe influenza is only a concern in cold climates. And although 70% know it can be prevented through vaccination, 64% worry about serious side effects. Additionally, 69% think they are already protected by the COVID-19 vaccine.

As Malaysia heads towards becoming an aged nation by 2030, with 15.3% of the population being 60 years old and above, we cannot ignore the public health implications of influenza. Intensive educational campaigns are essential to address misconceptions and encourage vaccination.

It's crucial for all stakeholders, including the government, healthcare professionals, and communities, to work together to raise awareness and promote action

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As healthcare frontliners, we see the devastating effects of influenza on older adults daily. I call on my fellow healthcare professionals to advocate for yearly influenza vaccinations and educate our communities.

Together, we can protect our loved ones and ourselves from the severe impacts of influenza.

This story is a personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the position of SAYS.

You too can submit a story as a SAYS reader by emailing us at [email protected].

Prof Dr Zamberi Sekawi Is the Chairman of Malaysian Influenza Working Group (MIWG).


¹ Warren-Gash, C. et al. Eur Respir J 2018; 51(3). pii: 1701794. Available at Accessed 18 July 2922.

² Department of Statistics Malaysia Official Portal. Statistics on Causes of Death, Malaysia, 2019.

³ US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu Symptoms & Complications, Accessed 12 May 2022.

US Centers for Disease Control. Flu and Pneumonia Vaccinations Decrease Relative Morbidity Risk for People with Diabetes,  Accessed 12 May 2022.

⁵ Ipsos. Perspectives on Influenza in Older Adults in Malaysia, Accessed 1 June 2022.

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