H1N1 a 'dud' pandemic, Ont. health official says

The huge investments governments made into swine flu pandemic planning might not have been justified, an Ontario health official says.

The huge investments governments made in swine flu pandemic planning might not have been justified, an Ontario health official said Thursday.

"It's really not causing — and is not going to cause and nowhere has caused — significant levels of illness or death," said Dr. Richard Schabas, Ontario's former chief medical officer of health.

"But governments moved ahead regardless. They ramped up their response, spent a huge amount of money on vaccines and other things. I'm not sure the $1.5 billion includes the cost of new ventilators, the cost of Tamiflu stockpiles … the huge investment that's been put into planning for what has ultimately turned out to be, from a pandemic perspective, a dud."

Schabas is now the chief medical officer of health for Hastings and Prince Edward counties in eastern Ontario. 

On Thursday, The Globe and Mail reported that Canada has so far spent $1.5 billion on the H1N1 vaccination campaign, twice as much as health officials had predicted. The H1N1 vaccine targets the strain of H1N1 influenza A virus causing the current swine flu pandemic.

Originally, it was estimated a single dose of the vaccine would cost $16. That cost has now risen to $30. The increasing cost is attributed in part to an unexpected surge in demand late last month.

By the time the immunization campaign is complete, the cost could exceed $2 billion.

In another development, an EKOS poll conducted exclusively for CBC News suggests more than half of Canadians surveyed believe concerns over the risk of H1N1 are exaggerated.

Of those polled, 53 per cent said the level of concern about swine flu is exaggerated, considering the real risks involved with the virus. Thirty-seven per cent said the concern was consistent with the level of risk, and 10 per cent said the level of risk was understated.

The survey of 3,502 people was conducted by telephone between Nov. 4 and Nov. 10, 2009, and has an error margin of plus or minus 1.7 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Both landline and cellphone users were included.