Saudis blow hot and cold over flu vaccine as winter approaches

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Updated 14 October 2020

Saudis blow hot and cold over flu vaccine as winter approaches

  • Similar symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 make people wonder how they can tell if they have one or the other

RIYADH: As October marches on and the weather continues to cool across the Kingdom, many Saudis are concerned about coping with the flu season on top of the coronavirus pandemic.

For those with the sniffles who are starting to fret, Arab News asked health care professionals to weigh in on when it was the time to worry and what everyone needed to know about the flu vaccine.

Unlike a few other vaccinations, flu shots are not mandatory in Saudi Arabia. But guidelines from the Scientific Committee for Influenza and Pneumococcal Vaccination recommend that the public and health care professionals receive the vaccine every year, especially during flu season as the composition of the vaccine is modified annually.

The Ministry of Health also recommends the vaccine for the public and health care professionals.

At a recent press conference, the assistant minister of health and spokesman, Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly, said that flu vaccines were recommended despite having no protective effects against COVID-19.

“Protecting oneself from influenza infections will improve a body’s overall health and protect it from many health issues resulting from acquiring an infection, including coronavirus,” he said.

However, the similar symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 have made people wonder how they can tell if they have one or the other if or when symptoms appear.

Dr. Abdulmalik Ismail, an ENT doctor and head and neck surgery resident who was at the forefront of the early fight against COVID-19, said that while there was no way to tell for sure if symptoms were COVID-19 or the flu, there were certain “hints” that indicated whether or not someone should get tested.




Although life-threatening allergic reactions to the flu vaccine are rare, the shot can cause side effects such as headaches, fever, nausea, and muscle pains. (Shutterstock)

“The common cold usually presents with a sore throat, cough, runny nose, sneezing and fatigue,” he told Arab News. “The flu can present similarly and can be mild, but may also cause more severe symptoms that include fever, headache, body aches and chest discomfort and can sometimes cause a lung infection otherwise known as pneumonia in certain people, such as the elderly or those with reduced immune systems.”

As for COVID-19, Ismail said that certain flu-like symptoms could be much worse than those of a typical flu, which could be used as a benchmark of sorts.

“COVID-19 symptoms can vary from mild to severe symptoms that can mimic the flu. It can also cause a loss of taste and smell much more profound than that of the common cold or the flu. Another hint is that children are commonly affected by the common cold and the flu. However, they are less likely to be affected by COVID-19.”

He said that anyone experiencing symptoms they were unsure about, especially if they were respiratory in nature, should begin self-isolation and monitor themselves carefully for worsening health.

“Anyone that develops respiratory symptoms should isolate themselves from other people and adhere to public health measures. Alarming symptoms that warrant seeking medical care include severe, persistent symptoms, chest pain, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.”

One of the most jarring points of concern for many is that it is possible to have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. This scenario has led people to start asking whether or not they should consider getting vaccinated this year, even if they are not usually in the habit of doing so.

Ismail said that people could protect themselves from the flu by getting vaccinated, even if they could not yet be vaccinated against COVID-19. But since the vaccine is not mandatory, and some find the side effects unbearable, many are wondering if the vaccine is their best option for self-protection.

SPEEDREAD

• Unlike a few other vaccinations, flu shots are not mandatory in Saudi Arabia. But guidelines recommend that the public and health care professionals receive the vaccine every year, especially during flu season.

• The Ministry of Health also recommends the vaccine for the public and health care professionals.

• Protecting oneself from influenza will also help in protecting the body from many health issues, including coronavirus, says health official.

Dr. Haya Zedan, a public health specialist, urged people to educate themselves thoroughly about the flu vaccine and its effects, given this year’s unprecedented circumstances.

“As a public health academic and researcher, it’s important to note that now more than ever we all have a responsibility to make informed choices that are in the best interests of our health and the health of our families,” she told Arab News. “People should make the effort to learn more about vaccines, such as the flu vaccine, and their benefits from verified scientific sources.”

Although life-threatening allergic reactions to the flu vaccine are rare, the shot can cause side effects such as headaches, fever, nausea, muscle pains, and soreness or redness in the area of the arm that was injected.

Rania Najran, a public health specialist and a mother of two, is debating whether or not getting a flu shot is right for her and her family as she and her children have suffered from uncomfortable side effects in the past.

“There’s so many factors to consider,” she told Arab News. “The negative side effects are just part of it. I know the vaccine won’t necessarily protect me 100 percent from getting the flu, it will just minimize the symptoms for the most part. I would rather not subject my body to the side effects. I prefer to boost my immunity the natural way, with vitamin-rich meals, staying active, social distancing, everything that we would do during any other flu season.”

For others, such as pediatrician Dr. Hind Assiri, getting a flu shot is a priority given the current situation.

“Any protection we can give ourselves and our children this flu season we should strive for,” she told Arab News. “I myself have four children, and all of us have gotten the flu vaccine. Thankfully, our side effects have been manageable and I can sleep better knowing that they have some degree of protection in such an unsafe time.”


Cocoa bean harvest: A sweet opportunity for Saudi Arabia

Gebran Al-Maliki, owner of a cocoa plantation, says introducing cocoa will help reshape the agriculture sector. (Photos/Supplied)
Updated 30 November 2020

Cocoa bean harvest: A sweet opportunity for Saudi Arabia

  • The Jazan region is known for its lush, green lands and fertile soil that possesses the necessary ingredients to ensure the development of other crops that guarantee continuity and different harvest times for each type of plant harvested in the area

MAKKAH: In an unprecedented experience for the Kingdom, a harvest season of more than 200 cocoa shrubs began this year in Jazan following several years of planting the Filipino seedlings.

The foreign plant is a new experiment for the Kingdom as it plans on testing out the long-term success of planting the favored sweet treat.

Specialists in the region pointed out that the cocoa shrub resembles the famous coffee shrub found in the south region of the Kingdom, where a number of farmers have already begun to evaluate the experience and continue cultivating land to make room for more, while others were not so successful.

The supervisor of the Mountain Areas Development and Reconstruction Authority in Jazan, Eng. Bandar Al-Fifi, said: “The cocoa shrub is a tropical or subtropical shrub and is native to South America and East Asia. It was presented to the Mountain Regions Development and Reconstruction Authority a few years back, specifically to the agricultural research station.”

He added: “The cultivation process was carried out six years ago by bringing seeds and seedlings from the Philippines. The seeds were cultivated and seedlings were distributed to some interested farmers in the region.

“We in the station’s field have cocoa, banana, mango and guava trees, as well as many tropical and subtropical trees. The field is being used as a guarantor of seeds, in addition to conducting tests and real experiments in an area of 200 meters, in particular on 15 cocoa plants and the first cocoa shrub in Saudi Arabia.”

He told Arab News that it was difficult at first to encourage farmers to invest in the plant, as many were hesitant to introduce a plant not indigenous to the region in order to facilitate the establishment of manufacturing factories and grow a local market.

Al-Fifi said that in Ethiopia, companies buy crops from farmers and then start an integrated industrial process of sorting, cleaning, drying and roasting, because to complete the whole process is not economically viable for farmers alone.

“If every farmer owns 30 cocoa shrubs, this will be an additional source of income for their future,” he added.

The Jazan region is known for its lush, green lands and fertile soil that possesses the necessary ingredients to ensure the development of other crops that guarantee continuity and different harvest times for each type of plant harvested in the area. Rainfall is abundant, seasonal fluctuations in rainfall are scarce and humidity is high, ensuring that soil continues to retain the moisture it requires for harvests.

“In addition to the fact that the temperature gap between small and mature shrubs is not big, due to our proximity to the equator, Saudi Arabia is located below the tropical line, which creates environmental conditions that help the shrub grow,” said Al-Fifi.

Gebran Al-Maliki, one of the owners of a cocoa plantation in Jazan, told Arab News: “Adding cocoa to the Kingdom’s agricultural field is one of the innovative things in Saudi Arabia and it began to give good results that would broadly stimulate the development process, provide an agricultural model that can be trusted and improve experience in a country that supports its farmers and provides them with all the required capabilities.”

He received seeds and seedlings by the end of 2016 as an experiment in which everyone was granted support. “Some wanted to give this new experience a try, because it is similar to the coffee plant. It is an ordinary shrub, just like fruit and citrus trees, but it is a drought-tolerant shrub that is watered once a week.”

To successfully cultivate the fruit, Al-Maliki said that shrubs need shade when first planted in the ground as they are “quite finicky,” but that with the proper care and attention, a tree will flower at about three to four years of age and can grow up to two meters in height.

With up to 400 seeds, the product testing began on his farm after just four years.

“You can find 30 to 50 seeds inside a pod, which are later dried under the sun and ground to become a ready-to-use powder. Cocoa powder can be found in chocolate, oils and cosmetics, in addition to several other uses,” Al-Maliki said.

He said that the seed is very bitter and explained that the more bitter, the better the quality. He added that he has four shrubs, and what hindered the spreading process was waiting for the product quality test results, indicating that the fruit was tried and was found very successful.

The agricultural research station for the Development and Reconstruction of Agricultural Areas aim to reach 50 shrubs in the region to provide enough fruit to produce seeds and seedlings for farmers. Al-Fifi said that they aim to reach 400 seedlings per year that will be distributed, on top of seedlings grown by the region’s farmers themselves.