Canada’s wealth of H1N1 vaccine prompts jealous glance from south of the border

Canada’s relative abundance of H1N1 vaccine, which won Ottawa’s long-awaited approval Wednesday, is attracting jealous looks from south of the border, where health officials find themselves facing a flu-shot shortage.

WASHINGTON — Canada’s relative abundance of H1N1 vaccine, which won Ottawa’s long-awaited approval Wednesday, is attracting jealous looks from south of the border, where health officials find themselves facing a flu-shot shortage.

A shortfall of swine-flu vaccine in the United States is a result, in part, of countries such as Canada having chosen to make their own populations a priority, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) told the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

Canadian manufacturers were under pressure from the federal government to take care of the needs of the Canadian population before they could make a supply of the vaccine available to the U.S., Lieberman said.

“It’s exactly what we would do with an American producer, and it just puts an exclamation point on the importance of developing domestic capacity for production of vaccine in these cases,” he said.

“I’m not blaming Canada, but I suppose in some sense you could say that the … shortage of the vaccine today, beneath what we would want it to be, is attributable to foreign countries telling their local manufacturers, ’Hey, you’ve got to fill our needs before you fill anybody else’s.”’

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Wednesday that vaccine production in the U.S. is behind schedule and that the shot won’t be widely available until mid-November.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, a top-ranking official with the CDC, said production of the vaccine wasn’t happening as quickly as hoped and that Americans should take precautionary steps to prevent the spread of swine flu.

“More vaccine is coming out every day,” but production isn’t where it was expected to be at this juncture, Schuchat said on CBS’s “The Early Show.”

“We wish we had more vaccine, but unfortunately the virus and the production of the vaccine aren’t really co-operating.”

For U.S. residents anxious about getting their vaccinations, she said officials expect “widespread availability” by mid-November.

Schuchat heads the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

Canada’s largest-ever immunization campaign was poised to begin as early as Thursday in some parts of the country after Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq declared the vaccine approved for use.

“We now have a safe and effective vaccine being distributed to provinces and territories that they will be rolling out in a matter of days,” Aglukkaq told a news conference.

“I encourage all Canadians to get vaccinated because it is the best way to protect our health and the health of our loved ones.”

Other countries have already begun vaccinations.

In Canada, priority for the swine-flu shot has been assigned to pregnant women, health workers, young children, people living in remote places, and adults with chronic conditions — the groups most vulnerable to the H1N1 virus.

Local health authorities will ask people at lower risk to wait until people at higher risk get the shots. But Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. David Butler-Jones, acknowledged the vaccinations are “not a rationing exercise” and no one will be turned away.

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