Wasted H1N1 Vaccine = No Problem? Puhleese!

Today's Globe and Mail has a page one story citing reports that hundreds of doses of H1N1 flu vaccine have been thrown out because the costly drug had hit its expiration date. According to the story, some provincial officials estimate that as much as 2 per cent of the vaccine has been discarded. Officials claim that there are particular challenges trying to distribute this particular vaccine. Unlike the seasonal influenza vaccine, the H1N1 has a short shelf life and can't be saved because researchers don't know whether it retains its efficacy.

"We are running a very efficient program," Anne Marie Akins of Toronto Public Health told the Globe and Mail. "But no matter how hard you try, there's going to be some waste."

Sorry, Anne Marie, and all the other higher-up officials who are charged with distributing the vaccine to all Canadians who want and need it. As you recall, the Federal Government purchased 50.4 million doses of vaccine containing adjuvant -- more than enough for all Canadians to receive it. So far, despite years to prepare for a pandemic, governments at all levels have failed miserably to make, distribute and administer the vaccine in time to prevent illness.

In Toronto, nasopharyngeal swabs have been running at 50% positive for H1N1 for the past three weeks. That's the usual indication that the peak of the outbreak has arrived and is often a harbinger that the number of positive cases is likely to subside soon. In other words, the majority of vaccine will likely be administered after outbreaks of H1N1 have occurred.

What really galls me and should gall you about the wastage of the vaccine is that officials seem so inured to the idea of wastage. In my opinion, that's a product of a monopolistic system that has few if any incentives to be efficient.

I'm not saying we should bring in competition from private providers of health care. What I am saying is that just because it's funded publicly doesn't mean health care in general and vaccine distribution in particular has to be inefficient.

On our show earlier this month, we profiled three family practices that are using new and even old techniques to improve efficiency. Fee for service and public funding of health care are no impediments to making things work better.

A couple of weeks ago, Canadians were squawking that members of the Calgary Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Raptors had early access to the H1N1 vaccine. Well, consider this: the wasted dosages of H1N1 would have easily vaccinated every professional sports team in Canada.


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