Haj flu jabs are now voluntary in Bahrain
Manama, November 4, 2009
It will no longer be compulsory for Haj pilgrims to take the H1N1 vaccination before they leave for Saudi Arabia, health officials have declared.
The move comes as Saudi Arabia withdrew its earlier order that only those vaccinated against the swine flu virus would be allowed to perform the pilgrimage, Bahrain's Haj medical mission head Dr Ali Baqqara told our sister newspaper Gulf Daily News.
He said the vaccination would be purely voluntary, but would not comment on what effect it would have on thousands of Bahrain pilgrims.
The move follows reports that the vaccine, which is at present being shipped across the world, has not reached several countries where it would not be possible to vaccinate people before they embark on Haj.
Bahrain has still not received supplies after 18 days when the first batch of 60,000 was scheduled to arrive.
Public health director Dr Khairya Moosa, however, attributed the delay to 'logistical reasons' and said that the shipment would arrive 'any day now'.
His Royal Highness Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa had last week urged an end to the dispute over pilgrims' swine flu vaccination during the weekly Cabinet meeting.
His comments followed reports that while Health Minister Dr Faisal Al Hamer said pilgrims had to get vaccinated before heading to Saudi Arabia, Justice and Islamic Affairs Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa said the vaccination was not compulsory.
The row over vaccinations had also reportedly put off many prospective pilgrims and Haj caravan operators claimed they had had 'at least half' of their bookings cancelled at the possibility of it becoming mandatory for all pilgrims to have the vaccination.
Dr Baqqara said the vaccinations would be administered as soon as they arrive. 'We will ask all pilgrims to take the vaccination, but in the end it will be their decision,' he said.
'We have tried our best to raise awareness so that pilgrims are informed about the risks, but in the end it is their choice. There is nothing more we can do. We will be happier if they take the vaccine and go.'
Dr Baqqara said he personally had a meeting with caravan owners and sympathised with them.
Caravan Alkadhem for Haj owner Ebrahim Alkadhem said there had been a drop in the number of people registering for the pilgrimage, but he hoped it would pick up now.
He said his was a Class One caravan and licensed to take 300 pilgrims. However, he said they had barely managed to get 150 people.
Humaidan Caravan owner Syed Redha Humaidan said he was happy with the new decision. According to reports, Saudi Arabia has begun to vaccinate its own Haj pilgrims over the swine flu scare, but said the 'priority was on domestic pilgrims'.-TradeArabia News Service