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Homeland Security

EGYPT: Half of all schoolchildren to be offered H1N1 inoculations

CAIRO, 6 January 2010 (IRIN) - Egypt launched a programme on 3 January to inoculate half the country’s schoolchildren against H1N1 influenza in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus.

Phase One, which ends on 13 January, involves inoculating some 1.2 million primary school children in six designated urban areas. Phase Two, the details and duration of which have not yet been fully set out, will aim to inoculate all schoolchildren, undergraduates, pregnant women and people with chronic diseases in the six areas.

The inoculations are optional, i.e. parents have to give consent for their children to be vaccinated before any inoculation can go ahead.

“The vaccine is very important,” Amr Qandeel, head of the Department for Preventive Medicine at the Health Ministry, told IRIN. “It’s the only way these students can avoid contracting the virus.”

Phase One involves immunizing all primary school children in the six urban centres with the highest infection levels - Cairo, Alexandria, Giza, Helwan, Qaluibia and 6 October City (the latter four are areas of Greater Cairo). There have been very few H1N1 cases outside these areas.

These centres are home to more than half the nation’s 17 million schoolchildren and undergraduates.

Strategy

So far, Egypt has obtained only one million influenza shots; 150,000 have already been used to inoculate pilgrims who went to Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj at the end of November 2009.

The aim is to use one dose to vaccinate two primary school children in Phase One.

The Health Ministry’s Qandeel said half a dose was sufficient for young children.

“This means that the 850,000 vaccines available will be enough to inoculate all primary school children in the above-mentioned six urban centres, in Phase One,” he said.

Some parents have expressed concern about the safety of the vaccine after hearing reports from other countries about its possible side effects. The Health Ministry has sent letters to all parents asking whether they want their children vaccinated or not.

Earlier, the Ministry said it would not vaccinate nursery age children until the possible side effects were fully understood.

More doses expected soon

Egypt expects to receive about four million additional doses of the H1N1 influenza vaccine any time now, according to Mohamed Rabie, head of Vacsera, a government-owned company responsible for importing the vaccine.

These doses will be enough to inoculate all 8.5 million schoolchildren in the designated centres, he added.

Officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) expect infections and deaths from H1N1 influenza in Egypt to rise in January and February, the peak winter months.

“Egypt isn’t one of the 50 countries most affected by the virus yet,” Hassan al-Beshri, an adviser to the World Health Organization in Cairo, said. “Despite this, the virus can infect up to 20 percent of the population if people aren’t vaccinated.”

The Egyptian Health Ministry said on 5 January that 159 people had died of the H1N1 virus, and 4,000 had been infected since the first case in June 2008. Egypt’s population is about 80 million.

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Theme(s): (IRIN) Children, (IRIN) Education, (IRIN) Flu, (IRIN) Health & Nutrition

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Copyright © IRIN 2010
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States. All IRIN material January be reposted or reprinted free-of-charge; refer to the IRIN copyright page for conditions of use. IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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