Doctors in the United Arab Emirates have reassured Muslims that it is safe to be vaccinated against COVID-19 while fasting during Ramadan.
The holy month is expected to begin on April 12 or 13, but as the UAE continues to roll-out its nationwide vaccination program, doctors are urging those to continue with their first or second dose of a vaccine as planned.
In some cases, fasting can actually help improve immunity, they say.
Dr Maisaa al-Sulaiman, a specialist in family medicine at Burjeel Specialty Hospital in Sharjah, said Muslims fasting during the holy month of Ramadan should not be wary about taking inoculations to protect against COVID-19.
“Fasting in Ramadan shouldn’t prevent people from taking the vaccine,” she told Al Arabiya English. “It is actually the opposite; scientifically taking the vaccine while fasting is more effective and gives better results.”
This is due to a process called autophagy which the doctor explained “is the immune system starting to clear out the body from all types of dead cells, diseases, and cancerous cells as well.”
Al-Sulaiman also said, “while fasting for more than 12 hours the body will be in its best state to defend itself and fight against any pathogens, and the result of the vaccine will be much better.”
While some people may experience minor side effects from vaccines, the benefits far outweigh the risks, said the doctor.
“For sure the vaccine has some side effects which are really minor side effects like headache, dizziness, and pain in the arm. But that shouldn’t scare people away,” she said.
Medical experts have also offered advice to ensure anyone fasting during the holy month continue to follow healthy lifestyle choices such as the right dietary habits and plenty of exercise.
Danya al-Atrash, a clinical dietitian at Burjeel Hospital for Advanced Surgery, in Dubai, said – aside from vaccine efficiency - studies have shown plenty of benefits to fasting.
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims are required to fast, or abstain from consumering food and water from dusk to dawn for 30 days.
“When seized well, Ramadan is a great time to kick start your fitness goals and to improve your dietary habits,” the doctor said. “Considering the COVID-19 pandemic we should keep our immune system strong during fasting.”
She also said consuming the right number of calories during the permitted eating hours “is very important.”
Fasters should include enough macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats), and micronutrients (Vitamin C, iron, zinc, etc) in their diets, she said.
“Those fasting should also consume an adequate amount of lean protein for satiety and maintaining muscle mass, eat a variety of food, including lots of different colored vegetables, fruits, pulses, and legumes and fill up on fiber for good digestion,” al-Atrash added. “Also, limit the intake of desserts and opt for fruits or healthy dessert choices and exercise regularly and choose the timing that suits your fitness goals and energy levels.”
Dr Azeem Abdul Salam Mohamad, a specialist in internal medicine at Bareen International Hospital – MBZ City, also urged people who will be fasting to maintain adequate hydration.
“Consume at least two liters of water spaced between iftar and suhoor in the form of soups, fresh juices, fruits, and vegetables rich in water. Avoid caffeinated drinks and get at least eight hours sleep.”
Ramadan once again falls amid COVID-19 pandemic
This year, Islam’s holiest month falls at the time when the world continues to be plagued by the coronavirus epidemic.
Dr Mohammed Shafeeq, the head of internal medicine at Medeor Hospital, Dubai, said people should continue to follow safety measures issued by UAE authorities during Ramadan.
“Authorities in the UAE have already issued detailed rules and regulations for Ramadan,” he said. “Considering the pandemic situation, we should avoid all majlis and public gatherings as suggested by the authorities.”
He also said ‘family gatherings should not be held, iftar and suhoor can be shared only by relatives living in the same house and try and avoid exchanging food with other families.”
Shafeeq also warned against “any big gatherings related to Ramadan activities.”
Elderly people and those with chronic diseases that place them at greater risk of the virus should continue to avoid public places. Health protocols including social distancing, hand hygiene, and wearing masks outside should be maintained during Ramadan, he said.