Feds to ship 1.8M swine flu vaccine doses next week
The federal government will ship 1.8 million doses of the swine flu vaccine to the provinces and territories next week, CTV News has learned.
Government sources confirmed to CTV News that the figure includes a shipment of unadjuvanted vaccine doses that have been developed for pregnant women.
The figure is considerably lower than the three million doses the government had hoped to ship each week beginning next week.
The news comes a day after Canada's chief public health officer said the country's pandemic vaccine manufacturer has shipped bulk quantities of parts of the vaccine out of the country.
In remarks to a news conference Tuesday in Vancouver, Dr. David Butler-Jones said GlaxoSmithKline has shipped bulk quantities of the antigen, the main ingredient of the vaccine, to other nations that need it.
Butler-Jones explained that GSK has made more antigen than can be bottled and since enough has been produced for Canada's needs, the surplus went overseas.
Meanwhile, Canadians are being told that there is so little vaccine being sent to the provinces this week, some flu shot clinics have had to be closed.
Alberta had to cancel clinics over the weekend, and has been forced to limit access to the vaccine this week. Only children between six months and under five years of age are receiving the shots, though on Friday, the program will be expanded to include pregnant women.
Nova Scotia too has been forced to restrict access to the vaccine this week to just young children under five years of age and pregnant women. Adults with chronic illnesses are being told to wait.
The slowdown in getting vaccine out to the flu clinics appears to lie in the processes that come after vaccine antigen is produced at GSK's plant in Ste-Foy, Que.
After production, it is bottled into vials and then passed through a "fill line" for quality control and distribution. But it appears the antigen is being produced faster than the vials can be filled, so the excess is being exported.
A spokesperson for GlaxoSmithKline explained to a number of news outlets Tuesday that enough of the antigen had been produced to meet Canada's target of making available 50.4 million doses of vaccine. Because they had an excess, they are now exporting the excess for filling for international markets, including the World Health Organization.
The spokesperson did not indicate how much excess antigen was produced, nor did she say when or where it was shipped.
Butler-Jones assured Canadians that the bulk exports won't slow down the country's swine flu vaccination campaign and won't impact how long Canadians wait to be immunized.
"There has been bulk vaccine that we're not able to actually fill here so that has been exported," he said. "But all of the vaccine that we can fill in Canada has stayed and will stay in Canada until our immunization is complete."
But at flu shot clinics across the country, supplies remain low and lineups continue.
The shortage problem worsened this week when GSK shifted its focus to preparing and shipping vaccine without adjuvant for pregnant women.
GSK said Tuesday it has now finished producing that version of the vaccine and is again focusing efforts on the vaccine intended for the majority of Canadians.
Around seven million have been distributed so far to provinces and territories, and shipments dropped to 436,000 doses this week.
Butler-Jones brushed off criticism that the vaccination campaign has been bungled. He said the reality is that just a week into the campaign 10 to 20 per cent of the people in many communities have been vaccinated -- more than any other country in the world.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq also noted that the government could have waited until there were sufficient doses for all Canadians to implement the immunization program, but instead they decided to roll out the vaccine early to target those most at risk.
A big price tag
Newly released figures from Ottawa and the provinces say the H1N1 vaccine will cost about $400 million, not including related costs.
The federal government is picking up 60 per cent of the tab for the 50 million shots, with the provinces paying the rest.
Ottawa will pay out another $78 million in costs for Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
That bill includes: developing emergency and strategic plans, surveillance and outbreak management, communications, and overtime, among other costs. The government's public awareness campaign will cost an additional $4.5 million.
Questions about single vaccine supplier
Meanwhile, critics blasted the Conservative government Tuesday for going to only one company for the H1N1 vaccine.
If Canada, like the U.S., used multiple vaccine suppliers, critics charged, the country might have avoided the bottlenecks that formed while trying to get the vaccine out to Canadians.
"Getting 50 million doses from one company is like trying to fill 50 million cups of water from the same tap," accused NDP health critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis.
Canada's H1N1 vaccine is made exclusively by GlaxoSmithKline, which signed a 10-year contract in 2001 with the then-Liberal government to develop and produce enough vaccine for the entire population in the event of a pandemic.
The contract was awarded to Shire BioChem, a company that gave $57,000 to the Liberal Party in 2001. The company has since been bought out by GSK, but the contract remained valid since it secured the Ste. Foy vaccine production facility.
Aglukkaq said the agreement has worked well.
"The domestic supplier I think has worked very well in our favour," she told the Vancouver news conference. "In Canada, we are doing better than any other country in producing vaccine on a per-capita basis with one company."
But Butler-Jones told the Toronto Star it's now being considered whether there's an "additional advantage" to having another supplier for pandemic flu vaccine, to help "hedge our bets."
"That's something that we will come back to, to think about after we deal with what we've got now," he said.
A spokesperson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper also told the newspaper the government is willing to rethink its pandemic plan."
"I think it's fair to say that right now once this has passed, that we will be reconsidering and re-examining all parts of the plan to see what worked, whether it was the coordination between the government and the provinces, whether it's the choice of a single supplier," Andrew MacDougall said.
"I think it would be wise once this has passed to look at what has happened and to have those discussions only with the benefit of hindsight."
With reports from The Canadian Press