Immunisation for Refugee Children


Malaysia has seen a significant increase in the number of vaccine-preventable disease cases. Measles has been reported to increase from 221 (2014) to 1,569 cases (2016). Likewise, 31 cases of diphtheria were reported in 2016, compared to 2 cases in 2014. In Malaysia, the target for vaccination coverage is 95%, which was higher than the 90% national vaccination coverage target that was set by the Global Immunization Vision and Strategy 2006-2015 (GIVS). The coverage for diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) vaccine maintained above 97% since 2012. A recent national household survey showed that incomplete vaccinations was higher in urban areas than rural. The areas with the highest rate of incomplete vaccinations included Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Pulau Pinang. The survey also showed that the rate of incomplete vaccinations was high among non-Malaysians, out of which 20% was due to the lack of accessibility.

Concurrently, there is an increase in the number of refugees in Malaysia, from 135,000 (2016) to 150,379 in June 2017. In Kuala Lumpur, it was estimated that there are 19,692 refugee children (aged 0-4 years old). Access to government health facilities is hindered financially for these refugees; where 50% can hardly afford the medical fees, a third of the healthcare centres refused to provide services primarily due to payment issues, and 16.7% have transportation issues. Medical assistance was mostly provided by NGO clinics that partnered with UNHCR. Hence, the immunisation status for these refugee children is still questionable and difficult to track. In 2011, a refugee in Los Angeles was hospitalised with measles after travelling from Malaysia. This resulted in 6 unvaccinated passengers, who were exposed to the ill refugee, to develop measles. This is a prime example where enforcing vaccine coverage for foreign communities is just as important in Malaysia.

In order to reduce or eliminate the transmission of vaccine-preventable diseases effectively, there has to be enough people in the community to be immune. Vaccination-preventable diseases are less likely to spread in a vaccinated area and the probability of contacting the disease agent is also reduced. In Philadelphia, it was shown that an outreach immunisation programme is effective for improving childhood immunisation rates in urban settings. Furthermore, a cost analysis conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that a vaccination programme for refugees would cost less compared to the cost of outbreak response activities, hospitalisations and medical visits. This further justifies the relevance of an outreach vaccination programme as a feasible means to reduce the chances of vaccine-preventable diseases spreading within our integrated community.

To ensure that this initiative is implemented effectively, IMU is collaboratively engaging with several external partners:

  1. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Malaysia
  2. International Organization for Migration (IOM)
  3. Tzu Chi Foundation
  4. Positioning
  5. Islamic Medical Association of Malaysia Response & Relief Team (IMARET)
  6. ElShaddai Centre Bhd (ECB)
  7. Pharmaniaga Berhad


Activities conducted so far
Since 2017, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) provided surplus vaccines that our CSSC team used to immunise refugee children at our IMU Cares-supported refugee learning centres. So far, we have provided the refugee children with the following vaccines:

1. MMR vaccine
In March 2017, IOM had a surplus of MMR vaccines that were to be expired in May 2017, and IMU was one of the organisations that received the donations. The MMR vaccines were administered to 483 refugee children, led by our CSSC team. No adverse reactions were reported by our team or other organisations involved in the exercise. We are currently expanding this initiative to include other vaccines according to the immunisation schedule guideline established by the Ministry of Health Malaysia.

2. HepB vaccine
In January 2018, 550 refugee children were vaccinated with HepB vaccine and 90% of the children followed-up with the 2nd dose. The 3rd dose will be administered in August 2018, provisioned by PharmaNiaga.

3. Pentavalent vaccine
From January to April 2018, there were 68 refugee children aged below 7 years old who were vaccinated with the Pentavalent vaccine. The booster dose is planned to be administered in April 2019.

4. Td vaccine
From May to July 2018, there were 501 refugee children vaccinated with the Td vaccine, out of which 80% of the children completed the three-dose course.


Immunisation for Refugee Children

  • To increase immunisation coverage among the refugees at learning centres supported by IMU Cares.

Target Audience

  • Refugee children at Refugee Learning Centres in Malaysia


Project Details

If you are interested to know more or have any enquiries on this project, kindly drop an email to the project leaders below.

Project Leader: Dr Sow Chew Fei

Serving the community is a manifestation of the University's core values but also as part of experiential learning, generally, a very effective form of learning - Walking the Talk.