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Covid-19: Awareness triggers rush for flu vaccine in UAE

Ismail Sebugwaawo and Saman Haziq/Dubai
Filed on October 24, 2020 | Last updated on October 24, 2020 at 08.41 am

Photo: Alamy



Experts have been stressing that getting a jab against influenza has become more important in the time of Covid. So, as flu season sets in, residents take action to protect their health

After trying to get the flu jab for three weeks, Dubai resident AR is now awaiting a call to finalise his vaccination appointment.


"For the last three weeks, I have been making calls to various private hospitals and clinics so that my family and I could get vaccinated. Most of them have run out of stock and are awaiting a new batch in the first week of November. Now, I called the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) helpline and they booked an appointment at a public health centre near my place.


"I am worried for my five-year-old daughter who was hospitalised twice two years ago when she was down with seasonal influenza B. Two weeks after she was discharged, she had respiratory complications. I have been trying to get her vaccinated first," said the father of three.


Demand for the seasonal flu shot has surged like never before, according to doctors. Families, office-goers and the elderly are all queued up for vaccination appointments.


Some private hospitals and centres administering the flu vaccine have said that because of the "unprecedented demand" for the seasonal influenza vaccine this year, they have run out of stock of both the trivalent and the quadrivalent flu vaccine, which was recently launched by the Ministry of Health and Prevention (Mohap).


Residents’ increasing awareness of the importance of protecting oneself from viral infections has led to a spike in demand, said Dr Salvin George, an internal medicine specialist at Medcare Hospital – Al Safa.


"The hospitals and suppliers are unable to keep up with the demand. Some of the initial flu vaccine campaigns have come to a stop due to lack of supply," he told Khaleej Times.


Dr George explains that it has been proven that influenza vaccines could reduce the duration and severity of flu infections.


"Although the vaccine does not protect one from Covid-19, it may reduce severity by boosting general immunity and possibly cross-immunity as they belong to the family of coronaviruses," he said.


‘50% surge’


Dr Bobomurod Keldiyorov, family medicine specialist at Canadian Specialist Hospital, said he had been administering the trivalent version of the flu vaccine to over 100 patients every day for the past month.


He said they have observed a surge of almost 50 per cent in demand, compared to the figures last year. "People want to protect themselves from any kind of respiratory disease that may make them an easy prey of the Covid-19 virus," Dr Bobomurod said.


Dr Santosh Kumar Sharma, medical director and consultant neurosurgeon at NMC Royal Hospital DIP Dubai, said NMC hospitals have also run out of stock but will be getting fresh stocks of the flu vaccine in the coming week. "This time, we have noticed that apart from walk-in patients and families, several corporates have put forward requests to provide the flu shots for their employees."


‘More young adults come in for jabS’


Fadi Hamwi, family medicine consultant at the American Hospital Dubai, said more young adults are coming in this year for the jab.


"We are seeing the younger population interested in the flu vaccine as there is a greater focus on maintaining wellbeing and general health. We are lucky that we still have some stocks of the vaccines."


Tariq Mohammad, a Pakistani expat in Abu Dhabi and father of two teenage boys, believes it’s highly important for families to get the flu vaccine.


"My family has already received the flu jab. I always make sure that we are vaccinated every year as a precautionary measure to protect ourselves from seasonal influenza and also for the protection of the society," he said.


Where can you get the jab?


Dubai


> Public primary healthcare centres


> Private hospitals


> Walk-ins accepted at three DHA Medical Fitness Centres — Jumeirah Lake Towers, Uptown Mirdif and City Walk


Abu Dhabi


Healthcare centres (under Seha, Mubadala Healthcare)


> Private healthcare facilities


Who should take the flu vaccine?


High-risk group:


Everyone, starting from the age of 6 months, is recommended to get the jab.


Healthcare workers


Kids below 5 years


Pregnant women


People aged 65 years and above


Those with long-term health problems (chronic disease): Diabetes, heart disease, lung disease


Smokers


Cost of flu vaccine at private hospitals/clinics in UAE


> Between Dh45 to Dh100 for adults


> Dh89 for kids above 5 years old


Influenza peaks from September to February


While influenza viruses circulate year-round, flu activity usually peaks between September and February, with activity that can last until May.


"The overall health impact (e.g., infections, hospitalisations, and deaths) of a flu season varies from season to season. Studies have found that during the 2018-2019 flu season, vaccination reduced flu-associated hospitalisation by 41 percent and flu-related emergency department visits by half among children (aged six months to 17 years old)," said Dr Jimmy Joseph, internal medicine specialist at Aster Speciality Medical Centre.


The flu vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of having to go to the doctor with flu by 40 per cent to 60 per cent, he added.


Why you need to get the vaccine this year


According to Dr Joseph, the 2020 flu vaccine is more important because, it’s likely that flu viruses and Covid-19 will both spread in the coming winter months.


"It will be a burden to the healthcare systems treating both patients with flu and patients with Covid-19. Both have the same respiratory symptoms. Hence getting a flu vaccine during 2020-2021 is more important than ever," he said.


In the last season (2019-2020), more than 180,000 people, citizens and residents were given the influenza vaccine in Abu Dhabi, according to the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha).


In addition, 22,394 Seha employees have also been vaccinated as part of the leadership’s vision of Abu Dhabi a healthy society.





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