Taking flu jab is ‘essential,’ UAE doctors remind residents ahead of winter season

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People have been so preoccupied with the pandemic that they have forgotten about taking the flu shot, doctors in the United Arab Emirates told Al Arabiya English, urging residents to take it ahead of the winter season.

“It is essential to take the flu shot to minimize the incidence of influenza infection, which can be as bad as any acute viral illness,” said Medical Director and Internal Medicine Consultant Dr. Fadi Baladi of Abu Dhabi’s Burjeel Day Surgery Center.

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“People were preoccupied with COVID-19 until recently, so they forgot that influenza is easily preventable through the flu shot that must be taken before the winter season.”

The incidence of influenza declined since the pandemic due to the use of preventative measures like face masks and regular sanitization, Baladi told Al Arabiya English.

Now that the UAE has seen a significant reduction in the number of daily COVID-19 infections, residents are being urged to take precautions to avoid the flu.

“As [flu] cases are being reported, we strongly recommend that people take flu jabs,” Baladi said.

Echoing his sentiment, Pediatric Specialist Dr. Mohamed Helal of Abu Dhabi’s Salma Rehabilitation Hospital said: “It is advisable to take the flu jab before the winter season in the UAE, which usually starts around September or October as this is the best way to prevent influenza and avoid its serious complications.”

Those at a higher risk of experiencing complications related to the flu are the elderly, pregnant women, people with diabetes, lung disease, kidney disease, immune deficiency disorders, and those who have “undergone transplants and are taking anti-rejection medication,” Baladi explained.

In the UAE, residents aged six months or above are eligible to take the flu shot.

The flu vaccine provides protection against the common cold by training the immune system to generate defensive antibodies.

Although both COVID-19 and the flu are contagious respiratory illnesses, taking the coronavirus vaccine does not offer protection against the flu, the doctors said.

“Influenza strains are totally different from COVID-19 strains, so COVID-19 vaccine will not provide full immunity against seasonal influenza,” said Helal.

“Influenza is from Orthomyxoviridae family of viruses, while COVID-19 is from the Coronavirus family. Although both are contagious respiratory illnesses, they are caused by different viruses.”

They both have common symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, tiredness, sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches, nausea, and headaches. In addition, both COVID-19 and the flu can lead to serious complications including pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and in severe cases, heart attacks, heart inflammation, brain inflammation, or stroke.

“The COVID-19 vaccine doesn’t offer immunity against the flu. We recommend a two-week gap between flu shots and the COVID-19 vaccine. Regardless of taking the COVID-19 vaccine, people need to consider getting the flu shot as soon as possible, as the flu season has already started,” Baladi said.

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