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BC downplaying H1N1 vaccine shortage

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control is downplaying the scarcity of H1N1 vaccine, but "flu rage" is beginning to break out across Canada among frustrated people waiting in long lineups to get shots for themselves or their children.

In a news conference held Friday morning at the B.C. CDC, Dr. Monika Naus, director of immunization programs, said the federal government had warned deliveries of vaccines would be "lower than anticipated" but that the feds are "making every effort to increase shipments."

Naus said that B.C. has received 500,000 doses of adjuvanted vaccine and expects an additional 350,000 next week. By next Friday another 25,000 doses of unadjuvanted vaccine will arrive.

Adjuvants are substances added to vaccines to enhance their effectiveness, enabling the same quantity of vaccine to immunize more persons. Nauk suggested that pregnant women in their first trimester avoid adjuvants.

However, a briefing note published Friday by the World Health Organization says pregnant women can take the adjuvanted vaccine without worrying about side effects:

Concerning vaccines for pregnant women, SAGE [Strategic Advisory Group of Experts] noted that studies in experimental animals using live attenuated vaccines and non-adjuvanted or adjuvanted inactivated vaccines found no evidence of direct or indirect harmful effects on fertility, pregnancy, development of the embryo or fetus, birthing, or post-natal development.

Based on these data and the substantially elevated risk for a severe outcome in pregnant women infected with the pandemic virus, SAGE recommended that any licensed vaccine can be used in pregnant women, provided no specific contraindication has been identified by the regulatory authority.

Naus said seasonal-flu vaccinations for seniors would be postponed so all efforts could go to H1N1 clinics. She advised British Columbians to check the BC Flu Clinic Locator to find the clinic nearest them.

She also said the short supply of vaccine was "not unexpected." She hoped people would take their turn, with priority groups being vaccinated first. Everyone who wants the vaccine, she said, should be able to get it by Christmas.

Across Canada, however, vaccine shortages were provoking exasperation. Ontario announced Friday afternoon that it will suspend shots for the general public next week, reserving the 170,000 doses available for those at higher risk of developing complications from H1N1.

The CBC reported that similar policies will be in force in Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Quebec. Alberta warned on Friday that it may run out of vaccine by next week.

A Canwest News Service report claimed that "flu rage" is spreading across the country, fuelled in part by anger at queue-jumpers and conflicting advice about how to deal with H1N1.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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