Speaking of “Hari Raya Haji ” or Eid al-Adha, sacrificing livestock including cows, goats and sheep on this day is a common sight especially near the mosque or community hall. This celebration marks the completion of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca. Performing Hajj is included in the 5 pillars of Islam. This holy pilgrimage records 1 million Muslims worldwide in 2022 in accordance with the Hajj quota provided by Saudi Arabia. Although pre-COVID time records 2.5 million people participating in the Hajj, the 1 million number certainly is the largest since the pandemic COVID-19 wave. Being one of the largest mass crowds of people gathering in a place, infectious diseases especially respiratory illnesses are much likely to spread among pilgrims. This is especially true during sharing accommodation and tents in the 5 days of the Hajj season. Due to this overcrowded condition, Hajj vaccination is made compulsory for all prospective pilgrims to adhere and to prevent them from bringing it back to their origin country which can cause further outbreak.
Respiratory illnesses such as Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and COVID-19 are very infectious and can cause fatality among pilgrims. Although it can be life-threatening, some respiratory diseases can be prevented by taking vaccination. There are several vaccinations required or recommended for prospective pilgrims before departing to Saudi Arabia such as:
1- Meningococcal Quadrivalent (ACYW-135) vaccine
This immunisation is compulsory (as required by the Saudi Arabia government) for all prospective Hajj pilgrims. It must be taken for at least 2 weeks prior flight departure to the Holy Land. This vaccine provides protection against meningococcal disease caused by Neisseria meningitidis. It can be obtained through any government healthcare facility under the Ministry of Health Malaysia for free. This vaccine provides 2 years of immunity.
2- COVID-19 vaccine
This immunisation is compulsory for all prospective Hajj pilgrims. Complete dose and booster must be taken and completed before flight departure. Such COVID-19 vaccine that is approved by the Saudi Arabian authority includes Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford/AstraZeneca, Sinovac, Janssen, Covovax, Nuvaxovid, Sinopharm, Covexin and Sputnik V. Aside from vaccines, the PCR test period is 48 hours before flight departure and must show negative status.
3- Influenza vaccine
This vaccine is additional and borne personally by the prospective Hajj pilgrims because it is only provided by private health facilities. It is recommended for those aged 50 and above, or those with underlying chronic illnesses such as diabetics, lung, kidney or endocrine diseases and asthma to take this vaccine to provide better immunity. This immunity can last for 1 year.
4- Pneumococcal vaccine
This vaccine is an additional to compulsory meningococcal vaccine and the vaccine cost is to be borne by prospective Hajj pilgrims as it is only available in private health facilities. Those aged 50 and above, or have health problems such as asthma, diabetics and lung, kidney or endocrine diseases, are encouraged to get a pneumococcal vaccine. This vaccine can help prevent acute lung infections caused by bacteria. Body immunity can be obtained up to 5 years.
Pilgrims are required to register all vaccine information in the application of “Tawakkalna” and “Eatmarna”. Aside from vaccination, pilgrims must practise good hygiene to help lower the risk of acquiring infectious diseases. Such excellent hygiene includes frequent washing hands using soap and water or disinfectant, wearing masks especially in crowded places, practising good cough or sneeze ethics and avoiding direct contact with those showing symptoms of respiratory infections. If you or someone you know falls ill or starts to show symptoms of any diseases, report it to the health authority to get necessary treatment and prior medical intervention.