Sunday, November 1, 2009

H1N1: "The words ‘colossal ineptitude’ come to mind," said Phil Carson

Aglukkaq admits 'disappointment' in vaccine production

By Keith Bonnell,
Canwest News Service
November 1, 2009 5:47 PM

After a faltering start to Canada’s mass immunization program, federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq admitted Sunday she’s been disappointed by production problems with this country’s H1N1 vaccine.

But the minister said there were benefits to having GlaxoSmithKline Inc. producing the bulk of Canada’s vaccine domestically.

She also said it’s essential that those Canadians who are at a higher risk of contracting H1N1 go out and get immunized, despite the long waits many of them have faced at clinics around the country.

“In a pandemic, everything is happening all at once, and it is a challenge,” the minister told Canwest News Service on Sunday as the nation entered its second week of the immunization program.

“I’m disappointed,” she said when asked about GlaxoSmithKline’s production delays. “GSK overstated what they would be able to produce.”

Health officials learned last week they would have only 400,000 doses to ship out this week and another 225,000 doses reserved for pregnant women — far short of the six million that have been distributed thus far.

Officials said the manufacturer has fallen behind because it had to make a special unadjuvanted vaccine for pregnant women. The World Health Organization said last week pregnant women can safely be immunized with either of the licensed swine flu vaccines.

The vaccine offered to most Canadians contains an adjuvant, a substance added to the vaccine to make it more effective, but there was initially some uncertainty about its suitability for pregnant women.

GlaxoSmithKline has since switched its one production line back to making the regular vaccine, but officials said it will take some time to ramp up to the target of producing three million doses per week.

“It was important to be able to produce unadjuvanted vaccine,” Aglukkaq said Sunday.

She stressed that having the company produce the vaccine in Canada — it has been made at a plant in Sainte-Foy, Que. — had avoided problems that could have arisen had the vaccine been manufactured abroad, such as meeting the production regulations of a foreign country.

The first week of the vaccination efforts saw provinces and territories struggle to meet the demand as worried Canadians lined up for hours to get vaccine for themselves and for their children.

Ontario, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Saskatchewan say plans to open clinics to the general public are on hold, while they focus on those most at risk — pregnant women, people under 65 with chronic health conditions, children between six months and five years old, people living in remote communities and health-care workers.

Alberta initially offered the vaccine to all its citizens, rather than just those in the high-risk groups, as many provinces did.

The plan seemed to backfire, with clinics unable to keep up, leading the province to shut all its vaccination clinics over the weekend.

It plans to restart vaccinations this week, but only for high-risk groups.

On Sunday, residents in Edmonton and Calgary showed up at clinics anyway, some of them unaware vaccination efforts had been temporarily shut down.

"The words ‘colossal ineptitude’ come to mind," said Phil Carson, as he arrived at one closed clinic. "It’s just bad planning."

“It’s not good," added Anna Luca, who said she saw the news Saturday night but decided to try the clinics at the former Children’s Hospital in case it was open. "Everybody’s panicking."

Meanwhile, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, said he has hired more temporary nurses and redeployed “every available vaccinator we have found in the city.”

“In order to vaccinate more people, our clinics need more trained professionals to work as vaccinators,” Dr. Isra Levy said in a memo to city staff issued on Saturday.

“We have also put out a call for trained personnel to work as vaccinators — a call that many have answered.”

As a result, the city’s six clinics have been vaccinating between 4,200 and 8,550 people a day.

The health minister said Sunday the vaccine was delivered earlier than expected, adding that the delivery of the vaccine was the responsibility of the provinces and territories.

“In the last three weeks, we’ve produced over six million (doses),” Aglukkaq said.

“We were early in getting the vaccines to the provinces and territories,” she said.

“The provincial governments and territorial governments deliver health care,” she said. “How they roll that out . . . that’s their jurisdiction.”

Aglukkaq echoed the pleas of provincial health ministers across the country that only those considered at a higher risk to contract the virus attend clinics.

“If you’re most at risk, you should be at the front of the line,” she said.

Meanwhile, Newfoundland and Labrador recorded its first swine flu-related death, health officials said Sunday.

A 36-year-old woman from central Newfoundland passed away Saturday from complications of an H1N1 infection. The local health authority said the woman had an underlying medical condition.

This would be the 96th confirmed H1N1-related death in Canada.

With files from the Calgary Herald, Ottawa Citizen and the St. John’s Telegram
© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service


Anonymous said...

Did she not say, tht he same company was making vaccine for American pregnant women.

Dr Mike said...

"“We were early in getting the vaccines to the provinces and territories,” she said."

Early for the regular flu maybe , but not the H1N1 strain.

This strain has been active all summer & a vaccine should have been administered in August to allow the 10-21 days for maximum immunity before the cool weather set in.

It is now too late for many as evidenced by the peaks of infection already reaching some areas of the country.

This strain of flu caught the Feds off-guard.

Maybe it is time to place a real medical professional (either unelected or elected) in charge of the Health Ministry as this job is too important to trust it to politicians.

Dr Mike Popovich

Ted Betts said...

Anonymous 11:48:

The vaccine is being produced in Canada in order to avoid cross-border and import issues.

I've seen Conservatives blame the worldwide demand which has nothing to do with the Canadian lack of preparation.

I've seen Conservatives blame GlaxoSmithKline.

I've seen Conservatives blame the provinces.

I've seen Conservatives blame parents for being too concerned about the health of their own children.

I've seen Conservatives blame the Liberals for the lack of preparedness(?!?!?).

I've seen Conservatives blame the media.

What I haven't seen is Conservatives taking responsibility for public health.

Harper passes the buck more than Crosby passes the puck.