Last winter, Qatar witnessed one of the worst flu seasons with thousands of people diagnosed with influenza and many more presenting with influenza-like-illnesses. Many patients with chronic diseases were hospitalized across HMC’s network of hospitals due to flu.
Many more individuals, including pregnant women and children, either visited an emergency department or were hospitalized due to influenza. This winter the flu is predicted to be as widespread and as severe. Dr Al Khal said many of the flu cases last winter were due to the H1N1 virus, and he says this year’s vaccine is made to protect against this.
Dr Al Khal, who is also Head of Infectious Diseases at HMC, recommends people begin getting vaccinated as soon as the vaccine becomes available. He says getting vaccinated early will help ensure protection before flu season begins. Flu vaccines are available in HMC outpatient clinics, primary health centers across the country, and in a number of private sector clinics and hospitals.
“Influenza, commonly known as the ‘flu’, is a highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory tract. The flu virus spreads from person to person through the inhalation of respiratory droplets from someone who is infected.
It can also be spread through contact with a contaminated surface. Symptoms of the flu include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue,” said Dr Al Khal. He adds that some individuals may also experience nausea and vomiting.
Chronic medical conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, cancer, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, kidney and liver disease, and obesity can significantly increase the risk of influenza complications.
In addition, he says pregnant women, older adults, and young children below the age of five years could also be at high risk of severe influenza.
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Thousands of vulnerable pensioners are being told they will have to wait weeks for their flu jab due to stock issues.
Earlier this month, it emerged that NHS Scotland had failed to order an upgraded vaccine, known as Fluad, meaning it was forced to prioritise the older age group at the expense of people aged between 65-74.
However, it has now emerged that some over-75s are being told they will also have to wait weeks to get the jab because of stock issues.
National policy has meant that practices have still to receive the remaining 40% of their allocation, which is still weeks away.
One pensioner, who wished to remain anonymous, said: The Scottish Government has been sending out letters urging over-75s like me to go and get a flu vaccination.
I have a heart problem so its something I definitely need to get and that is why I went to my medical practice.
When I tried to organise the jab, they told me that they were sorry but I couldnt get the vaccination at this time.
My surgery told me there was a shortage of the vaccine for over 75s and that I would have to wait at least two to three weeks for a jab and that it might take even longer.
You dont want people to be scared, but this could upset some people who do need the flu jab and it did come as a surprise to me.”
Another pensioner had arranged an appointment at Stonehaven Medical Centre to receive the jab but has now been asked to postpone it for two weeks.
He claimed he was told it was due to a national shortage, and was asked to phone back in a fortnights time.
The flu vaccine is supplied nationally rather than from local health boards. Practices received an initial 20% of allocation in September, which was followed up by 40% last month, with the remainder expected to be handed out by the middle of the month.
Some surgeries have been warning patients their appointments may be delayed until their stocks are replenished.
Fochabers Medical Practice posted on its website: “We are experiencing significant delays with receiving our 65-74 years and 75 years+ vaccines.
“This is a national issue and we are only able to vaccinate patients with the numbers that we receive.
It is estimated that almost 50,000 65-74s across the city and Aberdeenshire have been unable to get the flu jab.
The news comes in the wake of the region recording its highest winter death rate last year, with 495 of the 2,272 fatalities between December and March attributed to the seasonal difference.
That compared to a figure of 280 additional deaths during the colder months in the north-east in 2016-17 and 270 in the previous year.
Morays score on the winter mortality index was 23%, while the rise in Highland was 19%, 31% in the Western Isles, 21% in Orkney and 28% in Shetland.
Last night, North East MSP Tom Mason said: “It is deeply concerning to find out that people aged over 75 are not getting the flu jab as promised, so late in the year.
A spokesman for NHS Grampian said: “Supplies of the vaccine for people aged over 75 years is being supplied by national procurement to all practices in Scotland in a planned way with practices receiving 40% of their allocation in September, 20% in October and 40% in November.
“This means practices have needed to plan vaccination of their over-75 year old patients in a phased way as their monthly allocation of this vaccine has become available. As a consequence, some patients aged over 75 years are being offered vaccination during November.
“This timing is compatible with patients benefiting from the Protection vaccination offers prior to influenza beginning to circulate widely in the population.”
A spokesman said: “We are aware of the situation and are experiencing delays. Its primarily a national problem, but we are currently managing the situation in our GP practices through phasing appointments.”