OTTAWA — Canada’s largest-ever immunization campaign is ready to go now that the federal government has approved the swine-flu vaccine.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced Wednesday the vaccine has been approved for use in Canada, allowing provinces and territories to proceed with H1N1 flu shots as soon as possible.
“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.
“We’re not going to spend a lot of time trying to go through people’s medical history. We want to get as many people immunized as possible,” he said.
“I think Canadians have shown, time and time again, their respect for the most vulnerable.”
Ottawa has agreed to shield drug companies from lawsuits over the H1N1 pandemic vaccine. That means the federal government, not the vaccine manufacturers, would have to pay any damages awarded in court, except in cases of malpractice.
Quebec is the only province with a no-fault compensation plan for harmful side-effects resulting from immunizations.
Canadian clinical trials of the vaccine are still underway, but the federal regulator was satisfied enough with the results of thousands of clinical trials in Europe to approve the drug in Canada.
Two million doses of the swine-flu vaccine had already been shipped to the provinces and territories, awaiting Aglukkaq’s go-ahead.
The government aims to ship about three million doses a week as the vaccine rolls off the production line.
The Public Health Agency has developed national recommendations on the use of H1N1 flu vaccine, which include:
— All Canadians 10 years of age and older should get one dose of adjuvanted vaccine;
— Children from six months and up to 10 years of age should receive the adjuvanted vaccine in two half-doses, administered at least 21 days apart;
— Children less than six months old should not get the vaccine; and,
— Pregnant women should get one dose of the unadjuvanted vaccine. But if the unadjuvanted vaccine is unavailable and H1N1 flu rates are high or on the rise, women more than 20 weeks pregnant should get one dose of the adjuvanted vaccine.
Some facts about the vaccine for the H1N1 flu, approved Wednesday for national distribution.
What is it: A vaccine developed by GlaxoSmithKline in Ste-Foi, Que. One dose is expected to immunize a person against the H1N1 virus.
When available: Provinces may begin administering their stockpiles of vaccine as early as next week. About two million doses shipped to provinces and territories, with three million more doses to be shipped each week. GlaxoSmithKline has contracted to provide 50.4 million doses.
Additives: The vaccine contains adjuvants, or a compound that boosts the immune system and allows practitioners to administer smaller doses. It’s the first licensed flu vaccine containing adjuvant in Canada, although adjuvants have been used for years in Europe in flu vaccines for seniors.
Potential risks from adjuvants: No data on the use of adjuvanted flu vaccines in pregnant women and children. Government has ordered 1.8 million doses of unadjuvanted vaccines for their use. The unadjuvanted products will be shipped separately; no word yet on when they will be available.
Vaccine and seasonal flu shot: Preliminary analysis and international health authorities have largely dismissed Canadian research suggesting people who got a seasonal flu shot last year are twice as likely to contract swine flu.
Who should get vaccinated: Everyone 10 years of age or older should receive one dose of adjuvanted vaccine. Children between six months and 10 years should received the adjuvanted vaccine in two half-doses, administered at least 21 days apart. Pregnant women are advised to get one dose of unadjuvanted vaccine. Immunization is not recommended for infants less than six months old.