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Long lineups, vaccine shortage beset week two of swine flu campaign

OTTAWA - Long lineups at clogged clinics, a vaccine shortage and widespread confusion have beset Canada's largest-ever immunization campaign as it enters its second week.

OTTAWA - Long lineups at clogged clinics, a vaccine shortage and widespread confusion have beset Canada's largest-ever immunization campaign as it enters its second week.

Now health officials are appealing to lower-risk Canadians to wait a little longer for the swine-flu vaccine, at least until those who are most vulnerable get their shots.

In Ontario, where the recent deaths of children who caught the H1N1 virus spurred those who might not otherwise have wanted the vaccine into getting the shot, health officials plan to double the number of flu clinics to meet swelling demand.

The province's chief medical officer, Dr. Arlene King, said Sunday she expects the vaccine rollout to run more smoothly this week when hundreds of family doctors begin administering shots.

But King said people to whom the H1N1 virus poses the least risk will not be vaccinated "for some time" after a production problem at the manufacturer's plant significantly reduced the amount of vaccine doled out to the provinces.

Drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline will only be able to produce about 400,000 doses of the vaccine this week instead of the million or so doses that officials expected.

The shortage stems from production problems that arose when GlaxoSmithKline switched from making the adjuvanted version of the vaccine - which contains a booster compound - to making special unadjuvanted batches for pregnant women and young children.

A government source told The Canadian Press that GlaxoSmithKline had forewarned Ottawa that the switch to making the unadjuvanted vaccine would slow production. But the vaccine maker apparently underestimated how much the changeover would choke supply.

So instead of the 1.3 to 1.5 million doses that GlaxoSmithKline had anticipated, the drugmaker can now only supply some 436,000 doses for the coming week.

"GSK overstated their amounts," Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq told CTV's Question Period on Sunday.

"They will continue to produce the vaccine. But we will continue to work with them as we roll out the vaccine."

Dr. David Butler-Jones, the chief public health officer, has said the federal government didn't know the extent of the shortfall until last Thursday. But he said production is expected to ramp up again the week of Nov. 9 and health officials don't expect any more hiccups.

Butler-Jones also acknowledged that as recently as three weeks ago health officials didn't foresee the long lineups that have choked clinics giving out the H1N1 flu vaccine.

"Three or four weeks ago, what we could not anticipate was the number of people that are interested," he told CTV.

Thousands of Canadians have been vaccinated since Aglukkaq approved the H1N1 vaccine in late October - after other countries had already begun vaccinations.

But there have been long lineups, confusion and frustration across the country as people rush to get the vaccine and some are turned away.

The Alberta government's decision to temporarily suspend all swine flu vaccination clinics as the province's supply dwindles stoked calls Sunday for the provincial health minister to resign.

David Swann, leader of Alberta's Opposition Liberals and a physician himself, accused the province's health minister, Ron Liepert, of mismanaging the government's pandemic response.

Swann said Premier Ed Stelmach's Progressive Conservative government tossed the province's pandemic plan out the window by allowing those at lower risk to be vaccinated at the same time as higher-risk people.

"For some reason, this government chose to subvert that (plan) and open the gates to everyone," he said. "As a result we have the chaos we have today with ambiguous messaging, increasing anxiety. All of it (was) unnecessary."

The swelling crowds at vaccination clinics are in stark contrast with earlier polls that showed few Canadians planned to get the swine-flu shot.

But that was before the recent deaths of three Ontario children who caught H1N1 - with another death still unconfirmed - put a human face on the virus and galvanized worried Canadians to get themselves and their families vaccinated.

On Sunday, Newfoundland and Labrador recorded its first swine-flu death. Health officials said a 36-year-old woman with an underlying medical condition had died from "complications of an H1N1 infection."

Butler-Jones defended the rollout of the vaccine.

"If a year ago we knew exactly what the virus was, what the pandemic was going to be, then the production of vaccine could have taken place," Butler-Jones told CTV.

"But we're actually living in real time. We're producing vaccine while we're testing it, while we're distributing it and while we're giving it."

Both Butler-Jones and King, Ontario's chief medical officer, appealed to lower-risk Canadians to wait their turn for the H1N1 vaccine.

The Ontario government's plan is to only vaccinate people in the high-risk groups this week. But King acknowledged people won't have to prove they're at high risk, so flu-shot clinics will essentially operate on the honour system.

Those deemed to be at high risk are pregnant women, children over six months but under five years of age, health-care workers, caregivers for those who are vulnerable and unable to get the vaccine, people under 65 with pre-existing health conditions, and those who live in remote or isolated communities.

More than 1,700 people have been hospitalized since the virus appeared in April. The Public Health Agency of Canada says the H1N1 virus has so far killed 95 Canadians.

By comparison, the agency's website says the common flu sends about 20,000 Canadians to hospital each year. Between 4,000 and 8,000 Canadians die of influenza and its complications annually, depending on the severity of the season.

 
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