Legacy of 1976 swine flu outbreak led to pandemic vaccine contract

If the swine flu situation becomes more severe and countries start squabbling over scarce pandemic vaccine supplies, Canada will be sitting pretty.

If the swine flu situation becomes more severe and countries start squabbling over scarce pandemic vaccine supplies, Canada will be sitting pretty.

This country is in what might be a unique — or at least rare — position globally, able to fill all its pandemic vaccine needs within its borders.

That is not just a happy coincidence.

Planning that started in the early 1980s, when bruises inflicted during the 1976 swine flu scare were still sore, led visionary Canadian pandemic planners to the realization that the only way to be assured access to vaccine in a flu pandemic was to have it made within the country’s borders.

“It was the foresight of many people that’s allowed us to have something in place that few countries have,” says Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada’s chief public health officer and head of the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Most of the world’s supply of flu vaccine is made in Europe, where much of it is used. Manufacturing facilities are located in France, Germany, the Czech Republic, among other places. The U.S., Australia, Japan and China also have flu vaccine plants within their borders.

And Canada has one as well, a plant in Ste-Foy, Que., currently owned by GlaxoSmithKline.

That plant, expanded in recent years with federal government funding, is able to pump out 14 million vials of vaccine a month, and produce more bulk vaccine as well.

But in 1976, when 500 army recruits at Fort Dix, Md., fell ill with influenza caused by a swine flu virus, this country was in the position of having to purchase flu vaccine from the United States.

When then-U.S. president Gerald Ford famously declared the U.S. would vaccinate every man, woman and child against the new virus, Canada put in an order for swine flu vaccine and waited for its delivery.

It never came.

Dr. Susan Tamblyn, who has been a fixture in Canadian pandemic planning since the early 1980s, said in a 2005 interview with The Canadian Press that failure to secure vaccine made early pandemic planners realize the importance of security of supply.

Tamblyn is now a consultant for the Public Health Agency and declined to be re-interviewed on the subject.

But in the earlier interview about the origins of the pandemic plan, she said no reason was ever given for why the order was not filled.

“I just know we couldn’t get our vaccine. I don’t understand exactly why. And we never really got to the bottom of that — whether it was a government decision or a company decision because they were supposed to sell everything to government. That I don’t know,” Tamblyn said.

“That’s what triggered the move to security of supply…. Security of supply was a real sore point to us.”

In 2001, Canada signed a pandemic vaccine contract with Shire Biologics, which then owned the Ste-Foy plant and a related facility in Laval, Que. Shire later sold to ID Biomedical, which then sold to GSK.

The contract, which has transferred with the ownership of the facilities, requires the holder to be at the ready to make pandemic vaccine for Canada at all times. That means having an available supply of hens’ eggs year round to make vaccine, if it is needed.

The 10-year contract gives Canada first access to the vaccine produced at the plant. And it required the owners to upgrade the facilities, which were initially too small to meet Canada’s pandemic needs.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer area residents who were quarantined on cruise ship near Japan back in Canada

Central Alberta residents are safe and test negative for coronavirus

Alberta doctors getting ready for court fight against new pay, benefits deal

EDMONTON — The head of the Alberta Medical Association says it’s preparing… Continue reading

Eyes on police after Trudeau orders blockades torn down, injunctions enforced

All eyes are on Canadian police forces now that Prime Minister Justin… Continue reading

Ontario Tories hold annual policy convention amid union protests

NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. — Labour activists plan to hold a demonstration outside… Continue reading

SARS lessons help Canada prep for COVID-19, but hospital capacity a worry

OTTAWA — Canadian medical experts say the country’s already overstretched emergency rooms… Continue reading

Fashion Fridays: The 8 best quality online stores! Shop the ultimate sales

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Your community calendar

Feb. 19 A Liberation of Holland event is being held at the… Continue reading

Saskatchewan’s chief coroner warns public after fatal drug overdoses in Regina

REGINA — Two deaths and dozens of drug overdoses in Regina have… Continue reading

A champion, again: Humphries wins 3rd women’s bobsled title

Kaillie Humphries of the U.S. is a bobsled champion again, winning her… Continue reading

Canada’s Kingsbury finishes first in moguls for 62nd World Cup victory

TAZAWAKO, Japan — Canada’s Mikael Kingsbury earned his 62nd World Cup victory… Continue reading

Cruise-ship evacuees arrive for quarantine in Canada as first Wuhan evacuees let go

OTTAWA — A plane carrying 129 Canadians and their families who have… Continue reading

Trudeau says rail blockades have to end

TORONTO — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday indigenous barricades that are… Continue reading

HIV-themed ‘Friends’ edit pulled after copyright claim from Warner Bros.

TORONTO — A Toronto-based HIV-AIDS hospital has pulled an edited “Friends” episode… Continue reading

Spurgeon records hat trick to lead Wild to 5-3 victory over Oilers

Wild 5 Oilers 3 EDMONTON — Jared Spurgeon scored three goals as… Continue reading

Most Read