Children aged six months and above should be vaccinated against influenza as inoculation programmes against the seasonal virus prepare to get under way, according to doctors.
As schools start a new term and more people travel to the UAE for winter breaks, September is typically the start of flu season.
The 2022-23 vaccine is slightly different to previous years due to the constantly evolving strain of influenza now circulating in communities. It is a combination quadrivalent vaccine — effective against four flu viruses.
Cases usually increase in October and November and can continue through to June — typically in two waves.
As a result, medics said September is the ideal time to get young people and the vulnerable vaccinated to offer winter protection.
“The recommendation is for any child over six months to be vaccinated against influenza,” said Dr Jamuna Raghuraman, a pediatrician at Medeor Hospital, Dubai.
“We know the vaccines are safe, and after the pandemic, we know younger children have been suffering more with related symptoms so it is important they have protection.
“A number of children were not vaccinated against flu during covid, so that has been a problem.
"The vaccine is similar to previous years, but has been updated after monitoring of the latest influenza virus reported elsewhere in the world this year.”
Doctors said anyone considering a Covid-19 booster should leave at least 15 days before taking a flu vaccine, and ideally up to a month.
Children are most likely to pick up flu, and then pass it on to other family members.
Those younger than five and with certain underlying medical conditions are particularly vulnerable.
“Annual influenza vaccination is the essential measure to prevent complications when other viruses, including severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus, are circulating,” said Dr Pankaj Nandlal Tardeja, a pediatrician at NMC Specialty Hospital in Al Ain.
“It is advisable for those who did not take the influenza vaccine shot during winter last year to get it now.
“We are already seeing children complaining of a fever, cold, cough and body ache at our hospitals after the reopening of schools this September.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish between Covid-19 and the common flu, as many symptoms are similar in the early period, so it is best to consult a doctor.
“When ill with these kinds of symptoms, always wear a face mask when in the company of others and isolate yourself until the symptoms subside.”
Flu vaccine price and dosage
A government flu campaign is due to launch later this month. Vaccinations for vulnerable groups, such as the young and elderly, immunocompromised and pregnant women will probably be either free or subsidised in government and private clinics.
In Dubai, private hospitals usually charge Dh100 to vaccinate healthy people and a charge of Dh50 is levied in Abu Dhabi.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and US Centres for Disease Control recommends annual influenza vaccinations for all children without medical constrictions, starting at six months.
Two doses are given at least four weeks apart for children who are getting a flu vaccine for the first time.
Children over nine years old are recommended to take one dose of a flu vaccine.
Although rare, side effects from a flu shot can include soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, minor headaches, fever, nausea, muscle aches and fatigue.
The flu shot, like other injections, can occasionally cause fainting.
“Getting an influenza vaccine is not protecting us 100 per cent from the disease, but it is the best way to prevent the misery of the flu and its complications,” said Dr Zrinka Zderic Savatovic, a general practitioner at Health Bay in Al Wasl, Dubai.
“Once we get the flu vaccine our body will start to produce antibodies - it takes around two weeks time for them to develop; they are the ones that provide protection against flu illness.
“There are several different vaccines in the world and all vaccines for the 2022-2023 season are quadrivalent vaccines, meaning that they are effective against four different flu viruses," she said.
“The best time to take a vaccine is September and October.
"Ideally, everyone should be vaccinated by the end of October and every one six months and older should get an influenza vaccine every season with rare exception.”