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Monday, November 09, 2009 09:29:51 AM, Mohammed Rasooldeen

Health Minister Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah administers swine flu vaccine to his daughter Hana in Riyadh on Saturday.

(Photo: Ahmed Fathi/Arab News)

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Riyadh: The Kingdom will not bar anyone considered a high risk for swine flu from performing the Haj this year, said Minister of Health Abdullah Al-Rabeeah.


Al-Rabeeah said it is the responsibility of individual countries to enforce recommendations that children, the elderly and pregnant women forgo this year’s pilgrimage.


“Saudi Arabia does not ban anyone because the Haj is a religious event,” Al-Rabeeah told reporters. “Saudi Arabia has put in place strong recommendations that we hope individual countries will abide by.”


Al-Rabeeah made the comments at the launch of a national swine flu vaccine campaign in which he rolled up his sleeve and took the first shot. He then administered the vaccine to one of his twin daughters, Hana, 8. Her sister Haifa did not get the vaccine because she contracted swine flu recently.


Al-Rabeeah said a million doses of the vaccine would cover the first stage of the campaign. Pilgrims residing in Saudi Arabia, health workers and other officials involved in the Haj, especially in the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, top the vaccination priority list. The vaccination has been approved by the Saudi Food & Drug Authority (SFDA), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the European Medicines Evaluation Agency (EMEA).


Al-Rabeeah said that the Ministry of Health has tested the vaccination and that people are only being vaccinated following the recommendations of the SFDA and other recognized global organizations.


“People need not have any qualms about the effects of the vaccination. It does not have any serious side effects on adults and children,” he said, adding that Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah is keen on providing the best health care to people in the Kingdom.


The first phase of the campaign will cover local Haj pilgrims, members of the public and private sectors who are working during the Haj in the two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, and other workers who are in contact with pilgrims.


Al-Rabeeah added that only two cases of swine flu have been reported so far among the half a million pilgrims who have already arrived in the Kingdom. He added that there are no indications fewer people would be attending this year’s Haj because of swine flu concerns.


According to the Saudi Press Agency, local pilgrims have the option to be vaccinated. It has also been reported that the governments of several countries — including China and Egypt — are vaccinating their citizens who are coming for Haj.


Al-Rabeeah also called on parents to cooperate with the Ministry of Health in vaccinating their children in the Kingdom’s 30,000 schools. “I have shown you a good example by vaccinating my own dear child. It is up to you to follow suit,” he said, adding that schools would be distributing consent forms.


Hana Al-Rabeeah told journalists that she was proud and happy to be the Kingdom’s first child to be vaccinated and thanked King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan for working hard to contain swine flu in the Kingdom.


Other senior officials to receive the vaccination during the launch included Dr. Mansoor Al-Hawasi, deputy minister of health for executive affairs, Dr. Yacoub Al-Mazrou, deputy minister for Preventive Medicine, Dr. Khalid Al-Mirghalani, spokesman for the Ministry of Health, and Dr. Mohamed bin Ahmad Al-Kanhal, executive president of the Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA).


Addressing the launch, Dr. Al-Kanhal confirmed that the SFDA has approved the drug and that the vaccine is being marketed in 17 European countries, including Britain, France, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands.


“In addition, all studies and analysis confirmed that therapeutic benefits derived from the vaccine outweigh the potential side effects that can be caused by the vaccine, which do not differ in its entirety with the effects of the seasonal influenza vaccine that has been used for over 20 years,” he added.


So far, over 7,000 cases of swine flu have been reported in the Kingdom with 62 deaths among them. According to the Ministry of Health, over 95 percent of the flu victims have fully recovered.

The Kingdom has made extensive preparations to contain swine flu during the Haj, which begins toward the end of November.


Preparations include installing thermal-screening equipment at entry points to detect passengers with fevers, rapid reporting of illnesses from a network of hospitals and clinics back to emergency operations center and special hospitals for quarantining those who catch the disease.

(Arab News)







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