x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Hospitals warned over flu vaccines

The Ministry of Health warns private clinics and hospitals about offering seasonal flu jabs for swine flu.

ABU DHABI // Private hospitals that sell the regular seasonal flu vaccine claiming it protects against the H1N1 virus will face legal action, the Government warned yesterday. A circular had been sent to all the country's private hospitals telling them to stop misleading the public in a blatant attempt to make a profit, the Ministry of Health said.

The practice was "unprofessional" and "misleading", and offenders would be dealt with legally, it said, adding that the regular flu dose did not offer immunity against swine flu. Dr Amin al Amiri, the executive director of medical practices and licensing, said administering the seasonal vaccine and claiming it would be effective against swine flu was "a flagrant violation to medical deontology". He added: "Its only aim is to make profit, irrespective of the patient's health or scientific considerations."

However, some hospitals said they had not received the circular. "I can assure you that we have not received such a notice, neither from the Ministry of Health nor from the Dubai Health Authority," said Dr Abid Ali Shah, of the Arabian Hospital in Dubai. "In any case, we are telling our patients that the seasonal flu vaccine is not related to H1N1 virus. "We receive about two cases a day of people asking for the flu vaccine but we make sure they understand this is not related to swine flu.

"This is only for those who are travelling in some risky areas. There is still no vaccination in the country for H1N1 and we make that very clear to our patients." Dr Fatima Embrahim, medical director of Al Qasami Hospital in Sharjah, also denied receiving the circular, as did Dr Shajir Gassar at the Lifeline Hospital in Abu Dhabi. "We received last week a circular saying that all the tests for H1N1 tests have to be done free of charge, but we have not received this circular warning against the seasonal flu vaccine," said Dr Gassar.

"Our policy is to explain to our patients that the seasonal flu shots do not cover H1N1 virus." A pharmacist at Gulf Diagnostics in Abu Dhabi said it was out of the seasonal flu vaccine for adults due to a shortage. The children's seasonal vaccine was available but the pharmacist said: "This has nothing to do with swine flu. They are two very different things." The seasonal vaccine for adults costs between Dh150 and Dh2,000 (US$40 and $544).

Each seasonal vaccine contains three influenza viruses, including an H1N1 A type, but this is not the same strain as that which causes swine flu. This month, the ministry banned private hospitals from performing unnecessary tests for the H1N1 virus. Some hospitals in the capital had been charging patients as much as Dh1,000 for a test despite international health bodies saying it was not necessary in most cases.

The Dubai Health Authority had already banned the practice in the emirate's private facilities but the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi and the ministry, which has jurisdiction over the northern emirates, were slower to react. A vaccine for the H1N1 swine flu virus is expected to be ready by the end of the year. Last week the Ras al Khaimah-based Gulf Pharmaceutical Industries (Julphar) said it had signed an exclusive deal with a Chinese company to provide the Middle East and North Africa with a swine-flu vaccine, but the ministry has yet to confirm the agreement.

Vaccines against H1N1 would only be administered under the supervision of the Ministry of Health according to conditions set down by the World Health Organisation, said Dr al Amiri. Abu Dhabi Police has also set up an isolation ward at the speciality clinics run by its Medical Services division for patients infected with the H1N1 virus munderwood@thenational.ae myoussef@thenational.ae