This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Subsidised jabs for pilgrims
A city pharmacist has joined a scheme to give pilgrims travelling to Mecca subsidised meningitis jabs.
Everyone going to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages has to have the injection and a certificate to prove it has been given at least 10 days before arriving and within the past three years.
Hundreds of people from Leicestershire make the pilgrimages each year.
Altaf Vaiya, who runs the Alpharm chemist in Belgrave, is offering jabs for £30 – less than half the price charged by some GP surgeries – because they are subsided by the Muslim Council of Britain.
Mr Vaiya said: "It is a mandatory visa requirement for all those travelling to the Hajj to have a meningococcal vaccination.
"The visitor density, crowded conditions and the low humidity of the dry season puts pilgrims at particular risk of meningococcal infection.
"As a registered partner clinic of the Muslim Council of Britain, we are offering the vaccine as well as a certificate for a subsidised price of £30.
"We will also be giving advice on staying healthy during the Hajj."
Hajj is a major pilgrimage which is considered compulsory for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it.
Zuffar Haq, a spokesman for the Leicester Mercury Patients' Panel, said: "People should know that they can shop around for these travel vaccinations which are needed for many countries, particularly in these financial times, and that GPs no longer have a monopoly on this issue."
City GP Professor Azhar Farooqi, chairman of the Leicester City clinical commissioning group, which will take on responsibility for running city health services in April, said: "Prices do a vary a lot between GP practices.
"In my own, East Leicester Medical Practice, we used to charge £70 but have recently reduced this to £30. A lot of our patients wanted the vaccinations and we wanted to make sure they didn't go without."
Dr Shuja Shafi, deputy Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain and chairman of its health and food standards committee, has welcomed the move.
He said: "Several years ago, our survey showed a wide variation in the cost that Hajj and Umrah pilgrims incurred in obtaining the meningitis vaccine.
"The advent of the Department of Health preferred vaccine provided an opportunity to negotiate on behalf of the community an all-inclusive, cost-effective vaccination programme with the manufacturers.
"More than 1,250 pharmacists and GP practices across the country have chosen to participate in this programme."