(from left) Dr Hend Al Awadhi, head of Health Promotion at Dubai Health Authority (DHA); Dr Nada Al Marzouqi, director of the Department of Public Health and Prevention at MoHAP; Dr Farida Al Hosani, executive director of Infectious Diseases at the Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre; and Dr Shamsa Lootah, director of Public Health Services Department at Emirates Health Services (EHS); in Dubai on Tuesday during the launch of the national vaccination campaign against seasonal influenza Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: With the winter flu season on its way, the health authorities in the UAE have urged residents, especially those at high risk, to get their influenza vaccines.

Cases of influenza surge with the onset of winter months and the flu season in the UAE typically peaks between October and February. Since it takes two weeks for the flu vaccine to build immunity, health officials have urged residents to get their jabs as soon as possible.

The call came as the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) today launched the annual national seasonal influenza awareness campaign under the theme, “Protect Yourself... Protect Your Community”.

The campaign targets a broad spectrum of society, with top priority given to pregnant women, individuals aged 50 and above, those with chronic medical conditions, children under five years, and healthcare workers.

How to get vaccinated

Hundreds of government and private healthcare facilities across the UAE provide the flu vaccine for residents. A quadrivalent flu vaccine that provides protection against four strains of viruses is available in the UAE.

In Abu Dhabi, the flu vaccine is provided free of charge to all residents at government hospitals, schools and colleges. MoHAP is offering the flu jab for free to Emiratis and those among high-risk categories. In Dubai, the DHA is providing the vaccine at all government hospitals and primary health care centres. It is free for Emiratis and residents in the high-risk groups. In private hospitals, the flu jab costs anywhere between Dh50 and Dh125, depending on the facility.

About influenza

Seasonal influenza is a highly contagious respiratory illness, primarily spreading through the inhalation of droplets dispersed into the air when an infected individual coughs, sneezes, or talks.

Its transmission can also occur through contact with surfaces or materials contaminated with the influenza virus, followed by touching the face, specifically the mouth, nose, or eyes.

Hence, it’s vital to cultivate habits that hinder the proliferation of the infection, such as covering the mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, regular handwashing, and the routine cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces and implements.

Why vaccinate?

Vaccination offers numerous advantages, such as lowering the chances of flu infection, hospitalisations, and flu-related fatalities, especially in children. Although a flu vaccine does not guarantee complete immunity, various studies have demonstrated its ability to mitigate the severity of illness.

UAE health officials said individuals from the age of six months onward are encouraged to receive the vaccine, bearing in mind that it takes around two weeks for the body to develop immunity against the disease.

The annual drive was unveiled by MoHAP in Dubai, in the presence of Mattar Saeed Al Nuaimi, director-general of the Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre.

Also present were Dr Farida Al Hosani, executive director of Infectious Diseases at the Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre; Dr Nada Al Marzouqi, director of the Department of Public Health and Prevention at MoHAP; Dr Shamsa Lootah, director of Public Health Services Department at Emirates Health Services (EHS); and Dr Hend Al Awadhi, head of Health Promotion at Dubai Health Authority (DHA).

National objectives

The officials said the campaign seeks to achieve a set of objectives, which include bolstering health consciousness throughout society and promoting the critical importance of seasonal influenza vaccination.

It also aims to impart knowledge to healthcare professionals regarding international best practices for influenza prevention and ensure vaccines are readily accessible to target demographics while boosting vaccination rates.

To ensure widespread awareness, the initiative will be promoted through various channels, including social media platforms, newspapers, websites, television, and radio. Furthermore, visual awareness content will be distributed through television channels and news websites to reinforce the campaign’s message.

In a statement issued on the occasion, Dr Hussain Abdul Rahman Al Rand, assistant undersecretary for the Public Health Sector, stressed the importance of the campaign, stating that not only does it serve to advance the UAE’s health system’s responsiveness to respiratory diseases, but it also strengthens the vital surveillance mechanisms in place.

“Our concerted efforts seeking to enhance awareness and promote vaccination are not just measures but a testament to our commitment to nurturing a more sustainable, healthy society,” he said.

“Aligning with the Ministry’s forward-looking strategy, we are keen to improve public health standards and foster a community deeply ingrained with awareness and a firm commitment to preventive health protocols. Through well-thought-out community health campaigns, we envision a nation marked by a superior quality of health and vitality. Together, we embark on this promising path, shaping a future where the well-being of every citizen is not just a priority but a reality.”

Community support

He urged the community to back the government’s national initiatives by committing to vaccination and adopting appropriate preventive practices, curbing the proliferation of seasonal influenza, thus enhancing the community’s overall preventive health.

Dr Farida Al Hosany said: “We call on members of our community to support [our] efforts by receiving the seasonal influenza vaccine as soon as possible as it takes up to two weeks for the body to build sufficient immunity for protection against the disease.”

Dr Nada Hassan Al Marzouqi emphasised that proactive health programmes, focusing on influenza prevention and promoting the significance of vaccination, constitute a vital facet of preventative healthcare. She highlighted that the ministry is keen to offer seasonal flu vaccinations to health workers, underscoring their pivotal role in safeguarding community health.

Furthermore, Dr Shamsa Lootah encouraged the public to get vaccinated and adhere to precautionary measures to reduce the spread of the virus, thereby safeguarding their own well-being and that of the broader community and averting potential complications arising from influenza infections.

Dr Hend Al Awadhi, Head of Health Promotion at Dubai Health Authority (DHA), said that the unified endeavours of every health stakeholder in the nation play a pivotal role in strengthening the cohesive care system for community members, particularly focusing on preventative measures.