The Ministry of Health in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Wednesday launched an influenza vaccination campaign across the Kingdom at a in a press conference at its headquarters in Riyadh.
The Assistant Deputy Minister for Preventative Medicine Dr. Abdullah Asiri said during his presentation at the conference: “The aim is to provide vaccines for half a million people who are at a high risk of developing serious complications due to an infection of seasonal flu virus.
“The are namely health care workers, pregnant women and people with chronic illnesses. But ultimately we would like to achieve a flu vaccination rate of 75 percent of the high risk population, which is the target for 2019.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Aisha Al-Shammari, director of the National Program for Immunization, said in her presentation: “Seasonal influenza is an acute viral infection that spreads easily among humans, and causes annual epidemics which peak during the winter in temperate regions worldwide leading to three to five million cases of severe illness and about 250,000 to 500,000 deaths annually.”
She added: “The drive will also include an awareness campaign to educate and inform the general public, and a series of medical conferences aimed at health care workers who care for high-risk groups to ensure they all have up-to-date information about the flu vaccine and its effectiveness in reducing the risks of serious complications due to infection.”
“For high-risk groups, getting the annual flu vaccine is important because the human immune response to influenza viruses declines over time as the circulating viruses change, and therefore the formulation of the vaccine itself is reviewed by WHO each season and updated to keep up with the changing influenza viruses,” she said.
Dr. Asiri said that taking the flu vaccine will assist the person who gets infected with the Middle East Respiratory Sydnrome-Coronavirus (MERS-CoV). “Hopefully, the vaccine can reduce the risk by almost half in case if the flu appeared to be MERS-CoV,” he said.
“Because of the close similarity of the symptoms of both, distinguishing between them can be only possible through laboratory testing. So, since the break out of the MERS-CoV, severe cases of the flu have been handled as suspected cases of MERS-CoV,” he added.
Dr. Al-Shammari said that the ministry has secured over a million vaccines for its health care facilities all over the Kingdom while arrangements with drug importers were made to make around half a million vaccine ready to respond to the need of the private health care facilities.
“Further, in cooperation with the Council of Cooperative Health Insurance, we arranged that the vaccine against influenza be included in the list of vaccines covered by the health insurance policy at the private sector health care facilities,” she said.
Dr. Khalid Mirghalani said that the ministry’s influenza vaccination campaign was developed in collaboration with the World Health Organization’s Global Action Plan for Influenza Vaccines (GAP) which is a comprehensive strategy to reduce the current global shortage of influenza vaccines for seasonal epidemics and pandemic influenza in all countries of the world.