Tuesday, July 20, 2010 | Categories: Dr. Brian's Blog
A study published in the current issue of the journal Vaccine suggests that Ontario's H1N1 vaccination program paid some health dividends.
A team of University of Toronto researchers estimated the campaign prevented about 900,000 cases of flu, 105,080 visits to doctors, 28,721 emergency visits, 427 hospitalizations and 52 deaths, and saved an estimated $20 million in health costs. The total cost of the program was $180 million, so that has to be factored into the analysis as well.
It's certainly gratifying to learn that the vaccine worked. But questions about the campaign against H1N1 remain. The so-called second wave began in the first week of September, peaked in early November and tapered off by late January. Ontario's immunization program began Oct. 26, two weeks before the peak. The researchers said 37 per cent of the population had been vaccinated 16 weeks into the outbreak, and 45 per cent were vaccinated by the end of the outbreak, according to data available at the time of the study. Clearly, nearly half received the vaccine when it was of no apparent value to them, unless of course you believe in third waves!
Had the vaccine been available a week or two earlier, we may have seen much more benefit. All of us should be asking why it took as long as it did for the vaccine to arrive, and even longer for it to be distributed to the provinces and to their populations.
No doubt public health officials will be touting the Ontario study as proof the H1N1 vaccine program was worth it. But unaffiliated experts still maintain H1N1 is a high-volume, low acuity illness. With budget deficits likely to be the norm for years to come, you have to wonder how willing Canadians will be to spend a billions to prevent a mild disease the next time a pandemic shows up.