TORONTO — The federal health minister says the supplier working on Canada’s pandemic vaccine remains on target, and the vaccine should be ready in time for the provinces and territories to start immunization campaigns by the fall.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq told a news conference Wednesday that she’s optimistic GlaxoSmithKline will begin clinical trials by October, if not earlier.
If the vaccine passes safety and efficacy testing, Canadians would start being inoculated sometime in November.
Health officials said they’re still working on a priority list of who should first receive the vaccine, and they hope to have the list ready in September.
“We don’t need to make that decision today, as the production will be starting sometime in October,” Aglukkaq said.
Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada’s chief public health officer, said experts want to collect as much information as possible, including data from clinical trials of vaccines in other countries, before making the decision about who should be first in line for vaccination.
He said a priority list would decide which groups should get their shots in the first week as opposed to in the second, third or fourth week.
“The question is when do we say ‘OK, this is the prioritization list,’ and that won’t be probably until early, mid-September,” he noted.
The federal government’s long-standing contract with GSK is to provide enough pandemic vaccine for the entire population, if need be.
“I think the point for Canadians is that assuming there isn’t a huge problem that is unanticipated, unlike most countries, we actually have sufficient vaccine to provide that to the population who needs it and wants to have it,” Butler-Jones said.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, a U.S. government panel recommended that pregnant women, health-care workers and children six months and older be among those heading the priority list for swine flu vaccine.
The panel also said those first vaccinated should include parents and other caregivers of infants; non-elderly adults who have high-risk medical conditions; and young adults ages 19 to 24.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted to set vaccination priorities for those groups during a meeting in Atlanta. The panel’s recommendations are usually adopted by U.S. federal health officials.
In a study published Wednesday in The Lancet, CDC researchers reported that pregnant women who get swine flu are at least four times more likely to be hospitalized than other people with the virus.
Although it’s not known if pregnant women are more susceptible to the H1N1 flu, the researchers said that once infected, they have a higher risk of complications.
Their analysis of the first 34 cases of H1N1 flu in pregnant women in the U.S. between April and mid-June showed six died after contracting the infection.
Pregnant women have accounted for an estimated six per cent of U.S. swine flu deaths since the pandemic began in April, even though they make up just one per cent of the population.