About 200,000 people are expected to be covered under the national influenza vaccination campaign officially launched Monday.
The campaign is a joint initiative of the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), the Primary Health Care Corporation (PHCC) and Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC).
“The influenza season starts with the onset of winter months and people get affected especially in the colder months. This year, we had witnessed a major attack of influenza a bit early and the campaign aims to reach out to a good section of the public as early as possible,” said Dr Abdullatif al-Khal, HMC’s deputy chief medical officer and head of Infectious Diseases and co-chair of the National Pandemic Preparedness Committee.
He was speaking at a press conference at Al Waab Health Centre announcing the launch of the campaign. Dr Hamad al-Romaihi, manager, Health Protection and Communicable Diseases at MoPH; Dr Khalid Hamid Elawad, manager, Health Protection, Preventive Health Directorate at the PHCC and Dr Soha Albayat, head, Vaccination Section, MoPH, were also present.
"This year we have ordered 200,000 doses of vaccine as last year’s campaign was highly successful. Based on our experience from last year we have planned for this year. If there is still demand for more, we are ready to bring more doses,” explained Dr al-Romaihi.
Dr Albayat highlighted the efforts to reach out to more people. "Last year we had ordered for more doses as there was high demand. We are trying to reach out to high-risk people. They include elderly people above the age of 65, young children below five, pregnant women and people with chronic medical conditions,” she noted.
Thousands of staff across the Qatar healthcare system have already received the vaccine in readiness for the season.
“Initial laboratory data indicates an early start to this year’s flu season and also point to it being more severe than last year, so it is extremely important that people take action and get vaccinated, especially those at high risk for flu complications. Flu is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalisation and sometimes, even death. Vaccination to prevent influenza is particularly important for people who are at high risk for the flu and its complications,” explained Dr al-Khal.
Dr al-Romaihi said that this year the ministry has brought in a new vaccine which is more effective. “The theme of the influenza vaccine campaign this year is fight the flu and to make the influenza vaccine easily accessible to everyone again this year; the vaccine is available for free across all PHCC health centres, and at private and semi-governmental health centres. Through this, the Ministry of Public Health is building a strong partnership with private healthcare providers to increase levels of immunisation against the flu in our community,” noted Dr al-Romaihi.
Dr Elawad said vaccination has proved reduction in the risk of flu illness, and a growing body of research evidence supports the fact that vaccination also reduces the risk of serious flu outcomes that can result in hospitalisation and even death.
“With flu vaccination, it is also essential to practise good hygiene by properly and frequently washing hands and protecting others from coughs and sneezes. Coughing or sneezing into a tissue paper or an elbow can help prevent the spread of seasonal influenza. People who have flu-like symptoms should stay at home to avoid infecting others,” Dr Elawad said.
According to Dr Albayat, the annual seasonal flu vaccine is the best and safest way to reduce the chances of catching the flu and potentially spreading it to others. Every flu season is different, and influenza infection can affect people differently, but across the world millions of people get the flu every year, hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalised and tens of thousands of people die from flu-related causes every year.
"We encourage people to come early to get vaccinated to protect themselves and their loved ones from flu. The flu season is generally from October to April. In every country around 10% of the population is affected by flu. Last year we treated about 7,000 to 8,000 influenza cases,” she recalled.
Dr Albayat noted that special arrangements have been made for vaccination for the public, especially employees of ministries and other companies. “ If the ministries and companies want their employees to be vaccinated at their work site, we will be able to send trained healthcare staff to their place for vaccination. It is the most easy and accessible way for vaccination. Moreover, the side effects of flu vaccination are practically nil and the maximum can be some simple soreness where the vaccine is administered,” added Dr Albayat.
Seven semi-government facilities and 44 private clinics will also offer free vaccination and the names of the public and private facilities are available here.