The Ministry of Public Health, Hamad Medical Corporation and Primary Health Care Corporation have announced that the annual seasonal influenza vaccination campaign will begin Wednesday, September 1, with free flu vaccines available at all primary health centers, HMC outpatient clinics and at more than 45 private and semi-private clinics and hospitals across Qatar.

The health sector has launched the campaign early this year as experts warn that the flu season may start earlier than usual this year.

Chair of the National Health Strategic Group on COVID-19 and Head of the Infectious Diseases Division at HMC Dr. Abdullatif Al Khal said: "We usually launch the seasonal influenza campaign at the end of September each year, but because we are already seeing a significant number of people presenting at medical facilities with the flu, we have decided to take a proactive approach and commence the campaign several weeks earlier."

"With COVID-19 still a threat to our health, its very important that people take every possible step to protect themselves, their families and friends from the flu. Influenza and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, and lead to similar symptoms, but they are caused by different viruses. It is important for people to understand that the flu vaccine does not protect you from COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccine does not protect you from flu. For this reason, we strongly urge people to receive both vaccines. People can receive the flu and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time, or within a short period of time before or after each other. Clinical studies have shown that this is safe, and does not affect the efficacy of either vaccine," added Dr. Al Khal.

The first phase of the flu campaign in Qatar will focus on key priority groups, those individuals who are at most risk of severe infection from flu.

Manager, Health Protection and Communicable Diseases at MOPH Dr. Hamad Al Romaihi, said: "While people of all ages and health conditions can get the flu and become sick, there are certain key population groups who are at increased risk. For this reason, it is important that we prioritize these groups and ensure they are vaccinated against seasonal influenza first. The priority groups are people aged over 50 years; those with chronic conditions regardless of their age; children aged between six months and five years; pregnant women; and healthcare workers and teachers, due to their close interaction with vulnerable patients and children."

Dr Al Romaihi said 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. The circulating flu viruses change from year to year which is why it is important to receive the flu vaccine annually.

From Wednesday, September 1, the flu vaccine will be available for free across all 27 primary health centers, and at many private and semi-governmental health centers.

Manager, Health Protection, Preventive Health Directorate at PHCC Dr. Khalid Hamid Elawad encouraged people who meet the priority group criteria to take action to protect themselves. "It is important that people do not become complacent about the seasonal flu and believe that it is only COVID-19 that is a threat to their health. I encourage everyone who meets the eligibility criteria to visit one of the flu vaccination centers as soon as possible to get the vaccine. Maximum protection against the flu takes up to two weeks to develop so the sooner people get vaccinated, the sooner they will be protected."

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