Last Updated: Wed Nov 03, 2010 12:55 pm (KSA) 09:55 am (GMT)

Saudi FDA approves H1N1 vaccine ahead of hajj

Around 3 million Muslim pilgrims from more than 160 countries take part in the annual hajj
Around 3 million Muslim pilgrims from more than 160 countries take part in the annual hajj

The Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) approved GlaxoSmithKline's vaccine for the H1N1 flu virus on Tuesday, as the kingdom gears up to receive more than two million pilgrims at next month's hajj.

"The authority ... has been following through all the phases of the production of the A (H1N1) flu vaccine by several international companies specialized in vaccines," the SFDA said in a statement posted on its website.

 We have ordered 10 million vaccine units from Belgium, Great Britain and the United States. We have already received a first batch 
Ministry spokesman

The authority added that it decided to register GlaxoSmithKline's vaccine, which is distributed under the Pandemrix brand name.

Saudi Arabia will begin a national vaccination campaign on Saturday, he said. The kingdom has a population of nearly 25 million, nearly a third of whom are expatriates.

Priority will be given to pilgrims and hospital staff, health ministry spokesman Khaled Mirghalani said.

He could not immediately say whether Saudi Arabia would buy all of its vaccines from GlaxoSmithKline.

"We have ordered 10 million vaccine units from Belgium, Great Britain and the United States. We have already received a first batch," Mirghalani said.

Muslim pilgrims

 Everything is being done to ensure all goes well 
Ministry spokesman

Around 3 million Muslim pilgrims from more than 160 countries take part in the hajj in the holy city of Mecca most years, including up to 2 million who travel from abroad. Hajj this year will start in during the last week of this month.

Disease experts from the United States and Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, said last week that waves of H1N1 flu virus spread by pilgrims travelling to and from Mecca for next month's hajj threatened to put pressure on healthcare systems around the world.

The pilgrimage provides perfect conditions for the spread of the H1N1 flu virus, which is transmitted by sneezing and physical contact.

"Everything is being done to ensure all goes well," ministry spokesman Mirghalani said.

The Saudi FDA also moved to allay fears about the potential side effects of the vaccine, saying any impact would be little different from those of seasonal flu vaccines.

The Mirghalani said children will not be inoculated without parental approval.

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