More Canadians will be immunized for H1N1 faster than other countries: official

Canada may be behind other countries in rolling out its swine flu vaccine, but the population should be immunized by Christmas before the virus peaks, the country’s chief public health officer said Wednesday.

WINNIPEG — Canada may be behind other countries in rolling out its swine flu vaccine, but the population should be immunized by Christmas before the virus peaks, the country’s chief public health officer said Wednesday.

David Butler-Jones said when the H1N1 vaccine becomes available in early November, Canadians will be immunized faster than people in other parts of the world.

In some jurisdictions, such as Iqaluit, Nunavut, the population will be immunized within a matter of weeks, he said.

“The advantage in Canada that we have is that — while we may not start first with a few people — we will very quickly be able to immunize everybody in Canada who wishes it, in advance of the real peak,” Butler-Jones said after a research funding announcement in Winnipeg.

Canada has been criticized for not getting out the vaccine quickly enough when it is already available in the United States and other countries.

The Canadian Medical Association Journal released a modelling study this week that showed vaccine could have a large dampening effect if used early enough to combat a fall wave of H1N1.

But Butler-Jones said Canada is well-positioned compared with the United States and China. The vaccine used in the U.S. was one intended for healthy people since it contained a small dose of the virus, he said, and the country quickly ran out of that vaccine shortly after it became available.

China doesn’t have enough vaccine for its population, Butler-Jones added.

Three million doses a week will be available in Canada once clinical trials and quality tests are complete, he said.

“What we’re aiming for … is that before Christmas and before we’re in the season of sharing — not just good things but viruses as well — that everybody who wishes to be immunized will have had that opportunity.”

Butler-Jones and Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq also announced $2.4 million in funding for five research projects related to H1N1. The cash is to be spent over two years at hospitals in Toronto and Montreal, the University of British Columbia and University of Manitoba.

Projects include studies on why some pregnant women develop complications with swine flu, why some patients develop serious respiratory illnesses, how institutions can handle the most ill patients and new drug therapies for severe H1N1 infections.

Although the largest individual grant works out to be just under $600,000, Aglukkaq said the research is a “critical part of Canada’s pandemic plan.”

She continued to urge Canadians to take advantage of the H1N1 vaccine the minute it becomes available.

“My goal is to have 100 per cent of Canadians (vaccinated),” she said. “Immunization is our strongest line of defence against the influenza. Getting vaccinated is the single-most important step you can take to prevent the infection and to stop its spread.”

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