Flu Vaccine Shortage Hits Canadian Provinces

Record numbers of Canadians are getting vaccinated against the H1N1 virus, but vaccine supplies are dwindling

By: Muneer Huda, Staff Writer

Across Canada, provinces are running out of the H1N1 influenza vaccine.

“We don’t have much left,” says Dr. Monika Naus of the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control. “There’s undoubtedly still vaccines out there. . .but people are going to have to call around to find it.”

News of flu related hospitalizations and deaths are sending record numbers of people to vaccination clinics.

“This will be the first year that demand has been greater than supply,” says Dr. James Talbot, chief medical officer for Alberta Health Services (AHS). According to the AHS, clinics in Edmonton, Calgary and the North zone have now run out of vaccines.

Vaccines are ordered prior to the flu season, with demand typically being overestimated. “We’re trying to immunize everyone we can, and do it in a fiscally responsible way and in every other year we’ve had vaccine left over,” says Dr. Talbot

“A vaccine isn’t like turning on the tap and getting endlessly supplied,” says Dr. Perry Kendal, a BC provincial health officer. “We buy what we anticipate we can use at the beginning of every year. At some point, you use up what you bought.” According to Dr. Kendall, 90000 doses were returned to provincial health authorities last year, an estimated loss of $500,000 in unusable vaccines.

Saskatchewan is experiencing a similar shortage in supply. According to the health ministry, about 25 per cent of the province’s 1.1 million people were vaccinated this season. “We always overestimate what we anticipate we’re going to use,” says Dr. Denise Werker, Saskatchewan’s deputy chief medical health officer. “In most years, we will dispose of 30,000 doses … we’ve used up what we would normally have as reserve.”

Provinces are prioritizing their remaining supply of the H1N1 vaccine. Saskatchewan’s health ministry is only offering vaccination to children under five, pregnant women and new mothers. The AHS is keeping reserve vaccines for children, those who require two doses and an emergency supply for an outbreak in health facilities.

The H5N1 related death of a Canadian last week is the first to be recorded in North America, but Dr. Talbot says that Canadians are not in danger. “This is a very rare and isolated case. Avian influenza is not easily transmitted from person to person. It is not the same virus that is currently present in seasonal influenza in Alberta.”

Previous cases of the H5N1 bird flu have been related to direct contact with infected poultry. “This is not a disease that is transmitted between humans,” says Dr. Theresa Tam, director-general of the Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response at the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The flu season typically peaks in March and April. Canadians are reminded to frequently wash their hands, avoid crowds, sneeze or cough into their sleeve or a napkin and to stay at home if feeling ill.

Muneer Huda writes out of Waterloo, Ontario. He enjoys all kinds of writing, but has a special love for speculative fiction. He aspires to support himself solely through his writing one day. You can find him at http://muneerhuda.com.

Feature image courtesy of NRCgov
Banner image courtesy of Noodles and Beef

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