Physicians at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) and the Primary Health Care Corporation (PHCC) are cautioning elderly residents who have not yet received the influenza vaccine that they may be at higher risk of complications from flu.
Dr. Mahmoud Ahmed Refaee, a Geriatric Medicine Specialist at HMC, said the influenza vaccine, or flu shot, has been available in Qatar since October. He said the influenza vaccine is recommended for senior’s age 65 years and above, adding it is a safe and effective way to help stay healthy, prevent illness, and even save lives.
“As the weather begins to change and the cooler winter months move in, we see an increase in the number of patients with the common cold, influenza, and other viral infections of the respiratory tract. As people age, they are at higher risk of complications from influenza and for this reason, it is strongly recommended that those aged 65 years and above get the influenza vaccine,” said Dr. Rafaee.
He added that elderly residents who contract the flu are especially vulnerable to complications and may be more susceptible to pneumonia and the worsening of existing chronic medical conditions like congestive heart failure, asthma, and diabetes.
For the best protection, it is advisable to get the flu vaccine as soon as possible. Dr. Rafaee says it takes about two weeks to build immunity to the influenza virus and says immunity typically lasts through the flu season.
Dr. Rafaee says the flu shot is safe for most people, but he recommends elderly residents who have existing medical conditions talk to their doctor before getting the vaccine. He adds that most healthy adults will not experience any side effects from the vaccine.
“The most common side effect of the flu shot is arm soreness, and sometimes redness at the injection site. People do however sometimes report body aches, fever, or a cough. For most people, these symptoms will disappear after 24 hours,” says Dr. Rafaee.
Dr. Khalid Elawad, Health Protection Manager, with PHCC, said the Ministry of Public Health, HMC, and PHCC, have joined forces to launch a national influenza vaccination campaign because the vaccination does reduce the spread of the infectious disease and can save lives.
According to Dr. Elawad, while both the common cold and the flu generally impact the respiratory system and produce many of the same symptoms, they are caused by different viruses. He says the flu can be very dangerous, particularly for older adults, because they may be at increased risk of falls, injuries, and complications.
“Influenza is one of the most common viruses we see at our clinics during the winter months. Sometimes, it is difficult to distinguish between the common cold and the flu. Both are respiratory diseases, but there is a difference in the type of viruses that cause them. While their symptoms are similar, influenza is more severe and can pose a real threat to elderly individuals. According to the World Health Organization, annual flu epidemics are estimated to result in about 3 to 5 million cases of severe illness, and about 290 000 to 650 000 respiratory deaths,” says Dr. Elawad.
Dr. Elawad says it is important for elderly citizens to get the flu shot every year because flu viruses evolve. He says the previous year's vaccine may no longer offer protection from the current year's viruses.
“Viruses that cause influenza always change. This is why we recommend vaccination every year. The seasonal flu vaccination is available free of charge at all PHCC Health Centers. The vaccine has been given to hundreds of millions of people across the world over the past 50 years, and it is the best way to reduce the spread of the influenza virus,” said Dr. Elawad.
The flu vaccination is free of charge to all residents of Qatar and is available at all PHCC Health Centers, some private health facilities, and government facilities. For more information about influenza and where to get to the vaccine, go to www.stoptheflu.qa