H1N1 jab ready for health workers

Doctors, nurses and lab technicians are urged to take the voluntary inoculations and quell the risk of mass infections.

ABU DHABI // Healthcare workers at hospitals, clinics and health facilities across the emirate will be offered the H1N1 vaccination starting today as measures to prevent the spread of the disease are stepped up. The chronically ill and children are next on the list.

Doctors, nurses, lab technicians and even administrative staff at both private and public centres are being urged to sign up for the jab Pandemrix, which has been approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO). "By being vaccinated, health care workers decrease their likelihood of contracting swine flu and decrease the chance of infecting others," said Zaid al Siksek, chief executive of Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD)

A spokesman at HAAD confirmed that although the vaccine was not mandatory for either healthcare workers or pregnant women, who are also eligible for the vaccine and among the most at risk, it is "highly recommended and encouraged." There is no time limit or deadline for the administration of vaccines; healthcare workers as well as pregnant women will continue to be inoculated whenever they come forward to ask, he added.

Mohammed al Romaithy, general manager of the National Emergency and Crisis Management Authority, yesterday revealed there would be two million doses of the H1N1 vaccines available in the country by the end of this month, speaking on the sidelines of the three-day Crisis and Emergency Management Conference in the capital. Patients with chronic diseases and illnesses that make them more susceptible to swine flu will be the next group to be inoculated, said HAAD.

Infants and schoolchildren up to the age of 18 will be next. The WHO and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have identified five target groups that should receive the vaccine as a priority: pregnant women, children, health care workers, childcare workers and people with existing medical conditions which put them at higher risk of contracting the flu. In the UAE, Haj pilgrims were the first group to receive the vaccine.

Dr Jamal al Mutawa, section head of communicable diseases at HAAD, said that healthcare workers had a responsibility to get vaccinated, even if it was not obligatory. "To be able to provide healthcare, you have to care for your health care providers, which means we have to protect them in order to protect the system, should H1N1 spread or develop or mutate." Many health care workers, said Dr al Mutawa, do not realise that they can transmit the disease to vulnerable groups, such as children, pregnant women or those with low immunity, such as cancer patients.

Dr Moshera Atia, a medication safety pharmacist at Corniche Hospital in Abu Dhabi, said anyone at the hospital who refused to take the vaccine would have to give a reason why. "We will talk to the ones who aren't willing and try to convince them; otherwise, anyone who refuses the vaccine will be asked to fill out a form explaining the reason they declined it, so we can have on file who is and is not vaccinated," she said.

Amira Walli, director of public health at Corniche Hospital, said priority groups would be determined according to who interacted most with patients. "Our staff who are most in contact with susceptible patients will be prioritised, but there is enough vaccines for all 1,200 staff at the hospital," said Ms Walli. The Corniche Hospital in Abu Dhabi has already taken delivery of 10 vials of Pandemrix as a preliminary batch. Each vial has 10 doses of the vaccine, enough for 100 staff at a time.

Six swine flu deaths have been reported in the Emirates, including two young women in the later stages of pregnancy. Pregnant women are 10 times more likely than the general population to be admitted to intensive care if they contract the H1N1 virus, according to the WHO. As of December 27, more than 208 countries and overseas territories or communities have reported over half a million confirmed cases of pandemic influenza H1N1, resulting in at least 12,220 deaths, according to WHO. However, the actual number is expected to be much higher. Many countries, including the UAE, have stopped confirming individual cases.