With reporting from Lesley Walker
As temperatures fall and flu season closes in, Qatar’s government has launched a new campaign to encourage residents, especially those with vulnerable immune systems, to take their seasonal flu shots.
The flu season in Qatar starts in October and usually lasts until the end of February, according to Dr. Hamad Eid Al Rumaihi, the Supreme Council of Health’s (SCH) director of health protection and combating infectious disease.
This year, the SCH has increased the number of available flu vaccines from 70,000 to 105,000 to accommodate more residents, QNA reports.
Flu vaccines are now available until May, said Dr. Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, the SCH’s director of public health.
For those considering getting vaccinated, here are five things to know about flu shots in Qatar:
What is the flu?
Influenza is a highly contagious viral infection. There are three types of seasonal influenza viruses – A, B and C, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Type C influenza occurs much less frequently than A and B, so only the latter viruses are included in seasonal influenza vaccines.
The flu vaccine is most effective among healthy adults. Though it may not prevent illness in the elderly, it could reduce the severity of the flu and any related complications leading to death, the organization said.
Taking the seasonal flu shot can spare residents from getting sick and experiencing symptoms such as a sudden high fever, cough (usually dry), headache, muscle and joint pain, severe fatigue, sore throat and runny nose.
Most people can recover from fever and other symptoms within one week, while a severe cough could last for two weeks.
The flu can easily be transmitted through a cough, a sneeze or a handshake. Washing hands frequently with soap and water or using hand sanitizer, as well as covering the mouth and nose while coughing are the easiest ways to prevent the flu from spreading.
Who needs vaccinating?
Al Rumaihi said that the SCH’s campaign focuses on high-risk residents, including:
- Health workers in the public and private sector, because they interact with many patients on a daily basis;
- The elderly (above 65 years old);
- Those who suffer from chronic diseases like diabetes, heart conditions, liver conditions and respiratory diseases;
- Children (from 6 months up to five years old);
- Pregnant women (after the third month); and
- Those who constantly travel, especially people planning to perform Hajj or Umrah, which involves coming into contact with large numbers of people.
Where to get the shots?
In Qatar, residents can either get the flu shot at a public hospital or clinic, or a private one.
Al Rumaihi said that the vaccine is available in 17 public primary healthcare centers (PHCs). However, many PHCs here only serve Qatari nationals.
Here is a list of public healthcare centers that provide vaccination services to expats as well.
To avail of these services, expats should call 107 to set up an appointment (the hotline is operational 24/7). Residents should also produce their health cards at the clinic.
The vaccine is also available in several private healthcare centers and clinics, including:
- Doha Clinic in Al Sadd for both adults and children;
- Al Ahli Hospital, for children only (shots for adults might be available next month);
- Future Medical Center in Al Aziziyah on Al Waab, for both children and adults;
- Queen Medical Center in Villaggio mall for both children and adults; and
- Aster Medical Center, available only at the branch located on C-Ring Road, for both adults and children.
What does it cost?
In Qatar, the vaccinations can be free for those with insurance or health cards, or reach up to around QR450 at private clinics for those paying in cash.
Most healthcare providers told Doha News that it’s best to make an appointment before the vaccination, though operators at Doha Clinic and Al Ahli hospital said residents could just drop in to get the shot.
Influenza is one of the main causes of death across the globe, especially for those with weaker immune systems like the elderly and those who suffer from chronic diseases.
In addition to leading to up to half a million deaths worldwide each year, influenza is the the cause of three to five million cases of severe illness, according to WHO.
Because the flu virus changes and mutates, the vaccination is updated each year, which is why it’s advisable for people to get the shot annually.
SCH’s public health director added that the vaccine is very safe, doesn’t reduce the body’s immunity and has no long-term side effects for most people. The short-term side effects are typically limited to a slight increase in the body’s temperature, he added.