Coronavirus pandemic pushes up demand for flu shots in UAE

Hordes of paranoid parents, office goers and elderly are queuing up to book appointments at hospitals and clinics for the jab

Healthcare professional gives girl a flu vaccine. Image used for illustrative purpose.

Healthcare professional gives girl a flu vaccine. Image used for illustrative purpose.

Getty Images

UAE - After trying hard to get the flu jab for three weeks, Dubai resident AR is now awaiting a call from the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) to fix the time for his appointment

"For the last three weeks, I have been making calls to various private hospitals and clinics to get me and my family vaccinated. Most of them have run out of stock and are awaiting a new batch in the first week of November. Now, I called the DHA helpline and they booked an appointment at a public health centre near my place.

"I am worried for my five-year-old daughter who was hospitalised twice two years ago when she was down with seasonal influenza B. Even after two weeks when she was discharged, she had respiratory complications. I have been trying to get her vaccinated first and I hope we receive a call from the DHA centre soon," said the worried father of three.

Demand for the seasonal flu shot has surged like never before, according to doctors. Hordes of paranoid parents, office goers and elderly are queuing up to book appointments at hospitals and clinics for the jab. But, most of them have failed to secure one. Reason? Several private hospitals and clinics administering the flu vaccine have said that due to unprecedented demand of the seasonal influenza vaccine this year, they have already run out of stock of both the trivalent and the newly introduced quadrivalent flu vaccine, recently launched by the Ministry of Health and Prevention (Mohap).

The increasing awareness on the importance of protecting oneself from viral infections have lead to the huge demand, said Dr Salvin George, specialist internal medicine, Medcare Hospital – Al Safa. "The hospitals and suppliers are unable to keep up with the demand. The initial flu vaccine campaigns have come to a dead stop due to lack of supply," he told Khaleej Times.

Dr George explains that influenza vaccines have clearly demonstrated that the duration and severity of influenza infections are reduced in those who have received the vaccination. "Although the vaccine does not protect one from Covid-19 infections, it may reduce severity by boosting general immunity and possibly cross-immunity as they are belonging to the family of coronaviruses," he said.

He noted that all Medcare hospitals and clinics have the new quadrivalent vaccine stock as of this week and the cost of the vaccine is Dh46.

High demand for flu shots

Calling it a surge of almost 50 per cent from last year, Dr Bobomurod, family medicine specialist at Canadian Specialist Hospital, said he had been administering the trivalent version of the flu vaccine to over 100 patients every day for the past month.

"Although we were well-stocked, we are witnessing unprecedented demand for the seasonal influenza vaccine from not only worried parents but also adults because people want to protect themselves from any kind of respiratory disease that may make them easy prey of the Covid-19 virus. In fact, we have been administering two different strains of the flu vaccine — the trivalent vaccine that is designed to protect against three different flu viruses, two influenza A strains and one influenza B. We also are giving the newly introduced quadrivalent influenza (flu) vaccine which has an added B virus strain to the vaccine. Just two days back, we ran out of stock for the trivalent vaccine and are awaiting the next batch at the beginning of November. We still have some four-strain vaccine left but that will also get over in another day or so."

Dr Santosh Kumar Sharma, medical director and consultant neurosurgeon at NMC Royal Hospital DIP Dubai, said the NMC hospitals have also run out of stock due to a sudden surge in demand this year but will be getting fresh stocks of the flu vaccine in the coming week. "The demand for the influenza flu shot has been significantly higher than in the previous years. However, there has been a severe shortage of the vaccine locally. We will have the four-strain influenza vaccine in about a week’s time. The tetravalent vaccine is priced at Dh100. And this time we have noticed that apart from walk-in patients and families, several corporates have put forward requests to provide the flu shots for their employees."

Meanwhile, the American Hospital and its clinics have ample stock, said Fadi Hamwi, family medicine consultant at the American Hospital Dubai. "This year we are seeing the younger population interested in the flu vaccine as there is a greater focus on maintaining wellbeing and general health. We are lucky that we still have some stocks of the vaccines left. The vaccine will not protect against all types of flu and cold viruses but can only protect against the influenza viruses which are the more severe ones," he said.

Initiative to provide free vaccination

Health facilities in Abu Dhabi have directed to ensure that all workers receive the influenza vaccine. Earlier this month, health centres under the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha) launched the initiative to provide influenza vaccination free of charge to community members.

The Department of Health (DoH) – Abu Dhabi urged doctors to direct their patients to the clinics where the vaccine is being provided. The authority also instructed health facilities to register all influenza vaccinations currently being administered through the online system and report cases of suspected side-effects of vaccination

According to health experts at the DoH – Abu Dhabi, most people affected by flu recover within a few days to two weeks of being infected. Others may develop serious health problems such as infections in the lungs, ear, sinus and worsening of chronic health problems. Flu can be life-threatening for some; younger children, pregnant women, older adults and people with chronic health problems or weak immunity are more likely to develop flu complications.

Medical experts say there are different forms of the influenza virus and that virus changes and acquire new mutations every year. This is why vaccines are required to be changed accordingly such that it can provide protection against the virus.

In Dubai, the Mohap kicked off its annual National Seasonal Flu Awareness Campaign on September 28 and introduced a new four-strain vaccine that has been designed to protect against the four most common strains of the flu virus: two strains of influenza A (H1N1 and H3N2) and another two of influenza B.

Those who can get the vaccine for free are those suffering from chronic diseases, children under five years of age, pregnant women, elderly and health workers. Expats who are not exempted from fees may take the jab for Dh50 at private clinics and hospitals, if they have a valid health card, according to Mohap.

The DHA is also offering free vaccination for all elders aged 65 and above, children below five-years-old, pregnant women and people of determination, across its primary health care centres and medical fitness centres. Emiratis can also get vaccinated for free. The vaccination charge for all Dubai residents who are not from the high-risk group is Dh50.

Parents aware about importance of flu jab

Tariq Mohammad, a Pakistani expat in Abu Dhabi and father of two boys aged 14 and 18, believes its highly important for families to get the flu vaccine during this period of the year.

"My family has already received the flu jab. I always make sure that we are vaccinated every year as a precautionary measure to protect ourselves from seasonal influenza and also for the protection of the society," he said.

Cleopatra Nanyange, a Ugandan mother in Abu Dhabi, believes the flu jab is so helpful, but hasn’t taken her two boys both aged below five for the vaccine. "I know vaccination is important. But the flu shot wasn’t included on the immunisation chart for my kids," she said. "Also, taking the flu vaccine from private hospitals is not free. There is a charge for it and is not covered by our health insurance."

Flu activity peaks between September to February

While influenza viruses circulate year-round, most of the time flu activity peaks between September to February, with activity that can last until May.

"The overall health impact (e.g., infections, hospitalisations, and deaths) of a flu season varies from season to season. Studies have found that during the 2018-2019 flu season, flu vaccination reduced flu-associated hospitalisation by 41 percent and flu-associated emergency department visits by half among children (aged six months to 17 years old)," said Dr Jimmy Joseph, Specialist Internal Medicine Diabetologist, Aster Speciality Medical Centre, Pavilion mall – France cluster.

The flu vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of having to go to the doctor with flu by 40 per cent to 60 per cent, he added.

According to Dr Joseph, the 2020 flu vaccine is more important because, it’s likely that flu viruses and Covid-19 will both spread in the coming winter months. "It will be a burden to the healthcare systems treating both patients with flu and patients with Covid-19. Both have the same respiratory symptoms. Hence getting a flu vaccine during 2020-2021 is more important than ever," he said.

In the last season (2019-2020), more than 180,000 people, citizens and residents were given the influenza vaccination in Abu Dhabi, according to the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha). In addition, 22,394 SEHA employees have also been vaccinated as part of the leadership’s vision of "Abu Dhabi a healthy society".

Two strains of the flu vaccine

>Trivalent vaccine: Designed to protect against three different flu viruses, two influenza A strains and one influenza B. > Quadrivalent influenza (flu) vaccine: It has an added B virus strain to the trivalent vaccine 800DHA

Hotline to inquire information on the locations and timings of DHA’s vaccination services

Where can you get the vaccine?


>Public primary healthcare centres

>Private hospitals

>On walk-in basis at three DHA Medical Fitness Centres — Jumeirah Lake Towers, Uptown Mirdif and City Walk

Abu Dhabi

Healthcare centres (under Seha, Mubadala Healthcare)> Private healthcare facilities

Who should take the flu vaccine?

The vaccine is recommended for everyone starting from the age of 6 months.

High risk group:

>All healthcare workers

>Children below 5 years

>Pregnant women


>People aged 65 years and above

>Having long-term health problems (chronic disease): Diabetes, Heart disease, Chronic lung disease

Cost of flu vaccine in private hospitals/clinics in UAE

>Between Dh45 to Dh100 for adults

>Dh89 for children above five


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