Awareness campaign seeks to counter flu shot controversy


Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — Warnings and posts circulating on social media aim to scare people away from getting the influenza vaccine have led medical students and doctors to launch an awareness campaign recently.

As the flu season is still ongoing in the Kingdom, medical students running a survey found that many citizens still have misconceptions about vaccinations.

Around 70 percent of over 1,640 respondents were not aware of the Ministry of Health's mobile app reminder service of vaccines and a majority said they didn't have easy access to information or the right source when it comes to vaccinations.

The survey was run by some 23 volunteering medical students at Ibn Sina National College for Medical Studies who launched "Be Aware", a public campaign on the importance of vaccines.

Although the MMR vaccine is listed as one of the recommended shots, an anti-vaccine campaign on social media spread videos of cases claiming it leading to autism.

Medical students and doctors say it is a myth "as there is no scientific evidence" to support the claim.

Another fear is that vaccinations can lead to serious complications, which the specialists and students described as false saying even when side effects occur, they "should be minor and temporary".

The survey further revealed 11 percent of people stopped vaccinating their children and 15 percent did not get them on time. However, a large majority (93 percent) of people surveyed thought vaccines are important for children.

A regional social media campaign going by the slogan "No_to_vaccinations" has been active over the past month warning people against vaccinations and posting reports of cases that resulted in complications.

"We met some parents having second thoughts about getting their children vaccinated," said Najat Ibrahim, female leader of the campaign.

"We concentrated on clearing misconceptions, which resulted from a lack of access to the right information or the right source," said 4th year medical student Ahmed Elbasiouny, who led the campaign.

"We mainly clarified that prevention is more important than treatment and that before taking vaccinations, there is a need to take into consideration a person's age and gender, and in the case of women whether they are pregnant or not.”

Responding to the controversy on vaccines, microbiologist Dr. Muazzam Sherif said they are "safe and life-saving".

Dr. Amal Saeed, associate professor of medical microbiology and immunology, said vaccinations are important especially for children and that they depend on information on the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that have not indicated any correlation between severely harmful effects as a result of vaccinations.

While vaccines are available for free in public health centers that are allocated in neighborhoods, many people still tend to go to hospitals and private clinics. "There's both a lack of credibility to these health centers and also a lack of knowledge to what these health centers offer," says Ibrahim. "As a result, hospitals are crowded with simple cases of colds and people getting their flu shots."