ABU DHABI // Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and the Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, yesterday became the first person in the Emirates to receive the swine flu vaccine. Dr Hanif Hassan, the Minister of Health and chairman of the Supreme Supervisory Committee for Combating H1N1, was vaccinated a short time later at the launch of a campaign aimed at dispelling fears over the safety of the new drug.
"I feel great, and I hope our readiness and the readiness of the leaders of this nation to protect themselves and prevent the spread of swine flu will prove to people that this vaccine is a blessing," said Dr Hassan. "I haven't suffered from any of the mild side effects that some people may experience. You barely feel a thing; it's just a prick of a needle." Mohamed al Romaithi, the president of the UAE Football Association, and a member of the ministry's Technical Health Committee for Combating Swine Flu, was also inoculated, followed by the other members of the committee.
Mr al Romaithi said no one should be afraid to have the jab. "We have a role to dispel people's fears, and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed's decision to be the first to receive the vaccine is a loud and clear message," he said. "We on the committee are convinced that this is a very important step to prevent a wider spread of the flu, and the simple message we are trying to convey is that it is safe."
The UAE is among the first 20 countries worldwide to provide the vaccine for public use and has 40,000 doses currently available, said Dr Jihane Tawilah, of the World Health Organisation. "The most basic question when facing a new disease situation is to ask how to protect myself," she said. "There is a common-sense principle that it is better to keep people from falling ill than to treat them once they are ill; it is better to prevent disease, disability and death. And this is what vaccines can do when [we are] faced with infectious diseases."
Dr Mahmoud Fikri, the chairman of the National Committee for Combating Swine Flu, stressed the importance of using all suitable means to prevent an accelerated spread of the disease, but said the new vaccine was the most crucial method. "If you have the smallest chance to protect yourself from a disease, then it is human nature to do so," said Dr Fikri. "This vaccine is our chance." Other countries in the process of vaccinating their populations include Australia, China and the US. And among the more than 40 million people who had already had the jab, no serious problems or complications had been reported, said Dr Jihane.
The possible side effects of the shot include slight swelling, soreness and redness at the site of vaccination, which is normal, and mild flu symptoms such as joint pain, aches and a mild fever, for one to two days after receiving the vaccine, said medical experts. "The vaccine is safe for children and pregnant women as well, and there have been no reports of unexpected side effects never seen before," said Dr Jihane.
"People need to rely on factual sources and correct medical information and not listen to rumours." From today, Haj pilgrims in the UAE will start to be inoculated with the vaccine, which is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline. They will be followed by members of the medical and healthcare community, and then pregnant women. "We want the vaccine to be available to all, and it is free and voluntary, but since we have a limited number, some categories or groups of people have priority over others," Dr Fikri said.
Dr John Jabbour, the medical officer for emerging diseases and international health regulations at the WHO, said that, as of November 6, there had been more than 48,600 recorded cases of swine flu worldwide, and 6,084 deaths. "In all of the Middle East, we have registered 26,400 cases of swine flu over the past seven months. "Of those, we have had 150 deaths in total from swine flu in the Middle East, and 50 to 80 per cent of those who died have had other underlying health problems, like chronic diseases or compromised immune systems," he said.