Technology & Science

Canadian swine flu vaccine set for October

Canada will have enough H1N1 vaccine in place by late October to deal with any swine flu outbreak, federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said Friday.

Canada will have enough H1N1 vaccine in place by late October to deal with any swine flu outbreak, federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said Friday.

Aglukkaq told reporters that drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline Inc., with whom Ottawa has a contract to develop a swine flu treatment, should be able to produce enough of the drug by then to treat a major spread of the infection.

"Everyone who needs vaccine will be able to get at least one dose before Christmas," Aglukkaq said as she gave an update on the H1N1 flu.

Many countries have been scrambling to stockpile treatments for swine flu after the disease began spreading in April. But the lack of available product has forced some governments to develop supply plans in case of a major outbreak of the H1N1 virus.

The World Health Organization now predicts that a fully tested vaccine for the virus will not be ready for general use before November instead of an earlier fall forecast. Worse still, the United Nations agency has said there will likely not be enough of the serum to go around.

Europe currently manufactures approximately 70 per cent of the global supply of flu vaccines. But few countries are self-sufficient in the drug.

Swine flu reporting period (Canada)  Cases  Increase 
07/04-07/15  10,156  742   8
06/28-07/04  9,414  1,219  15 
06/21-06/27  8,185  1,289  19 
06/14-06/20  6,906  2,001  41 
06/07-06/13 4,905 1,927 65
05/31-06/06  2,978   ---  ---
Source: Public Health Agency of Canada  

Britain, for example, receives all of its flu treatments from other countries. Similarly, the United States only produces 20 per cent of its influenza shots domestically. Experts suggest these countries would have to scramble to snag more of the vaccine from other sources because they lack the capacity to make it at home.

Canada appears to be in a more advantageous situation regarding H1N1 drug supplies, Aglukkaq said.

"We believe that if all goes well, the vaccine will be delivered on time," she said giving early November as the latest date for GlaxoSmithKline's drug.

First Nations communities have been especially vocal in the need for prioritizing vaccine use in order to deal with their high rates of infection. In Manitoba, for example, swine flu prevalence among aboriginal men and women is 20 times the provincial average.

Numbers slip

Interestingly, however, Canada might have less of a need for the drug than first supposed as the swine flu situation stabilizes across the country.

While some troublesome pockets with high rates of infection persist, the overall Canadian situation appears to be under control, the health minister said.

"We have seen a decrease in the number of hospital visits by people with flu-like symptoms," Aglukkaq said.

Since mid-June, Canada has experienced a drop in the weekly incidence of H1N1. The country saw 2,000 new cases of the infection in the week ending June, but only 740 new cases in the period ending Wednesday.