Abu Dhabi The UAE will become the first country in the Middle East to purchase approximately one million H1N1 flu vaccines over the next three months, Gulf News has learnt.

The first batch of 500 H1N1 vaccines is expected to arrive by mid-October, Dr Eisa Al Mansouri, consultant pharmacist at the UAE Ministry of Health (MoH), said.

"If it was up to us, we would vaccinate all the UAE population. However there's a shortage [of] H1N1 vaccines from manufacturing companies. It will depend on how much the manufacturing companies will provide us with. In the meantime, we will initially vaccinate the five target groups," Al Mansouri said.

The General Authority of Islamic and Awqaf Affairs has also confirmed that 6,200 pilgrims from the UAE will be vaccinated before travelling to perform Haj in December.

"Each person will be given a certification to prove they are vaccinated as per the Saudi Arabian regulations," a source told Gulf News.

According to the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunisation Practices (ACIP), five target groups have been recommended that they receive the vaccine.

They are pregnant women, household and caregiver contacts of children younger than six months of age (these include parents, siblings, daycare providers), healthcare and emergency medical services personnel, persons whose ages range from six months to 24 years, and persons aged between 25 to 64 years who have medical conditions associated with a higher risk of influenza complications.

The health ministry talked to three pharmaceutical companies regarding the vaccine, namely Novartis, Baxter and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

However, they have decided to purchase the vaccine from Novartis and GSK for the prime reason that both entities tested the vaccine on more than 6,000 volunteers who included children, pregnant women, and the elderly. The tests established passive side effects.

"Side effects involved in the H1N1 vaccines are nothing but rumours. The side effects of the 2009 H1N1 flu shots are expected to be like those from seasonal flu shots.

"The most common side effects after flu shots are mild, such as being sore and tender, red and swollen where the shot was given. Some people might have a headache, muscle aches, fever and nausea or feel tired," Al Mansouri said.

The side effects usually begin soon after the shot is taken and may last as long as one or two days, he said.

Allergic reactions

"The flu shots can cause allergic reactions but life-threatening allergic reactions to the vaccines are rare. A person who has a severe life-threatening allergy to eggs or to anything else in the vaccine should not get the shot, even if she is pregnant," he added.

Pregnant women should inform the doctor or nurse giving the shot if they have an allergy or ever had a severe allergic reaction following a flu shot.

The CDC says the vaccine is safe and advises pregnant woman to receive both the 2009 H1N1 flu shot and the seasonal flu shot.

Breastfeeding mothers can receive both seasonal and H1N1 shots or nasal sprays. Breastfeeding is fully compatible with flu vaccines, and preventing mothers from being infected can reduce the chance that an infant will get the flu.

— With inputs from Abdullah Rasheed, Abu Dhabi Editor

Accuracy not 100%

The Centre for Disease Control has reported that the accuracy of rapid H1N1 tests used to detect swine flu is between 40 per cent to 69 per cent.

"The test gives false results 60 per cent of the time, it's not 100 per cent effective that is why we ask doctors to do the regular H1N1 check and prescribe Tamiflu tablets when necessary.

"And unlike false allegations, Tamiflu is an anti viral that has few side effects. Out of a million patients, only a few have shown signs of side effects," said Dr Eisa Al Mansouri, consultant pharmacist at the UAE Ministry of Health (MoH).