VANCOUVER, B.C. - More people will "probably" get sick as British Columbia waits for an H1N1 vaccine top-up to a supply that's expected to dwindle quickly in the coming week, B.C.'s provincial medical officer of health said Thursday.
Clinics have distributed the swine flu shot at a rate of about 400,000 doses during each of the past two weeks since its roll out, Dr. Perry Kendall said. There is now only 83,000 doses remaining in the province.
"The more people we can get vaccinated, the fewer people will end up in the hospital or in ICU," he told reporters.
"Not having vaccine for a period of time reduces the potential impact until we can get the vaccine going again."
The scarce supply will be given to pregnant women first, along with other targeted groups whose needs weren't met this week. That might include health-care workers and the chronically ill as first priorities, Kendall said.
"As yet, there's not enough to go around. There will be, we just don't have it yet," he said, adding the entire country is facing the same shortage.
British Columbia is set to receive about 250,000 more doses from the Quebec production plant by next Thursday for distribution beginning the following week.
In the meantime, health authorities will attempt to shift unused vaccine to areas where there is greater demand, Kendall said.
As of Thursday morning, the total number of lab-confirmed H1N1 deaths in the province was 17.
Hospitals in B.C. haven't been overwhelmed by swine flu patients at this point, Kendall said, but they have started diverting doctors from other wards to assist in busy emergency rooms.
"I think that we may well encounter a situation, sooner or later, where because of the volume of patients in hospitals, hospitals will either curtail or stop or temporarily stop elective admissions for elective surgeries so they can make space in their beds or so that they can have the staff read up so they can deal with influenza patients," he said.
Hoping to reduce demand on physicians further, Kendall said he'll work with the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport to request sports teams not seek preferential treatment for the shot.
It was revealed Wednesday that the Abbotsford Heat of the American Hockey League vaccinated most of its players - a move Kendall said was against the rules.
On Thursday, he said he was looking into new reports that players for another B.C. team - the Chilliwack Bruins of the Western Hockey League - had also received the shot.
Darryl Porter, team president, confirmed 11 players between the ages of 16 and 19 were vaccinated Monday by team doctor Paul Basson. Porter said Basson had leftover doses that were about to expire from a weekend clinic, and offered it to the team.
"We said 'Look, we want to be held to a moral standard here, is this the right thing to be doing?" Porter said.
"And he said 'Absolutely, where else am I going to go to get this done correctly with a high-risk group?' So we said 'OK, then we'll do it."'
Porter said he understands that within the Western Hockey League, "numerous" teams have already been vaccinated.
"We're certainly not unique."