The Ministry of Health announced that the vaccinations for the winter 2020-2021 season is limited to Kuwaiti nationals only. Photo for illustrative purposes. Image Credit: iStockphoto

Kuwait City: The Ministry of Health announced on Saturday that the vaccinations for the winter 2020-2021 season is limited to Kuwaiti nationals only, due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Although, when the ministry announced the commencement of the vaccination campaign on Thursday, there was no mention of nationality, rather they pointed out that the target group for the vaccinations will be those with respiratory and chronic diseases, including civil service individuals, like police officers, military personals and front line workers.

The head of the preventive health department at the Ministry of Health, Ibrahim Al Saleh, said in a statement that it is important that citizens and residents take the necessary vaccinations.

It is unclear why the ministry decided to announce that the vaccinations will be provided to citizens only.

After news broke, many people on social media questioned the Ministry’s decision, pointing out that Kuwaitis make up 30 per cent of the population therefore making the decision counter effective as it will not provide immunity to the majority of the population.

“Vaccines in general have two benefits, individual benefit and community benefit. In terms of the flu vaccine, we should target community protection to reduce the number of people infected so we can lessen the load on the healthcare system, while its coping with the second wave of the coronavirus,” Dr. Hamad Yaseen, assistant professor of medical genetics at Kuwait University, told Gulf News.

In its fifth year, the winter campaign, which begins in early October and ends on December 31, is meant to contain the spread of infectious illnesses mainly the seasonal influenza, otherwise known as the flu.

The Ministry of Health has already supplied 150,000 doses of the flu shot across 34 preventive centers and are looking to increase the total amount of doses to 400,000.

“400,000 doses for a population of 4.3 million is limited, therefore we should target people with chronic health conditions and older people,” Dr. Yaseen pointed out.

Flu shot & the pandemic

Many studies and scientists have pointed out that the flu vaccine protects people from the seasonal influenza, not COVID-19, and it is imperative that one avoids getting the flu especially this winter.

According to the Centre for Disease Prevention (CDC), it is possible to have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time.

In addition, they both share similar symptoms which can make it hard to tell the difference between both diseases solely based on the symptoms.

“It is likely that many people will confuse the symptoms of the flu and the coronavirus, therefore they will seek medical attention putting an extra load on hospital beds and testing laboratories,” Dr. Yaseen said.

What is the flu?

Although the flu, like the COVID-19 virus, attacks the respiratory system one of the difference between the two viruses is that the flu has a shorter incubation period, 3 days, while the incubation period of the COVID-19 virus is 5-6 days, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Most people recover from the flu, but sometimes it can lead to complications especially in older people, young children under the age of five and people with chronic illnesses, like asthma, diabetes and heart, kidney and liver diseases.

While the flu vaccine is not 100 per cent effective, it has been proven to reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization for vulnerable groups.

Dr. Abdullah Al Sanad, said during the launch of the winter campaign, that high risk individuals make up 95 per cent of total deaths from the seasonal flu.

The Assistant Undersecretary for Public Health, Dr Buthaina Al Mudhaf pointed out that the percentage of deaths from influenza decreased from 1.3 per cent in 2015 to 0.4 per cent in 2019.

Every year, the flu vaccine changes as medical professionals update the vaccine so that it is tailored to the most recent vaccine strain.