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Aglukkaq, Butler-Jones say little in H1N1 news conference

Speaking from Iqaluit to a dial-in news conference today, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and Public Health Agency of Canada head Dr. David Butler-Jones had little new to say about the H1N1 outbreak, but said it repeatedly.

In her opening statement, Aglukkaq said she was touring Canada with Dr. Butler-Jones "to address vaccination myths." She said Nunavut was well prepared and its government well placed to deal with H1N1.

Aglukkaq also mentioned that H1N1 cases had increased recently in British Columbia, but offered few details. She plugged a new publication, Your H1N1 Preparedness Guide, available by download at

According to a report released this afternoon by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, the province has seen 29 new hospitalizations in the past week (almost a third of all 93 hospitalizations since last spring), with one new confirmed death in the Interior Health region. This brings the total to 7 deaths since the outbreak began.

After the minister's statement, Dr. Butler-Jones took over, with questions in French being handled by Dr. Danielle Grondin. Butler-Jones's key point was that the H1N1 flu vaccine would be available early in November, and that provincial and territorial governments would by then be prepared to set up and run mass vaccination clinics

Despite being asked repeatedly if such clinics might launch as early as October 26, Butler-Jones stuck to an early-November "roll out" of vaccinations. But his responses implied that an earlier launch was at least possible.

He urged "everyone who can" to get the vaccine, saying that 25-30 percent of Canadians could fall ill without it. He also emphasized that serious adverse reactions to vaccinations are extremely rare, and said the vaccine is now being quality-tested.

So far, Butler-Jones said, less than a million doses have been prepared, and production had had to wait for completion of the seasonal flu vaccine. But he still expected to "effectively immunize the entire population in weeks." He called the effort "the largest mass immunization campaign in history."

One reporter cited a recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which found healthy young women to be among the largest group of Canadian H1N1 deaths, and asked why they weren't to be immunized right away. Another asked why B.C. immunization wasn't a priority.

"The key," Butler-Jones replied, "is to cover the whole population as soon as possible." He also said more information is needed on risk factors for healthy young women who contract H1N1.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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