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Kendall: 'We're learning as we go' on vaccinations

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall told a press conference today that "We're learning as we go" in the largest mass vaccination in Canadian history.

Kendall said B.C. will have just 83,000 doses for the coming week, but an additional 250,000 doses will be available for the following week.

Given the tight vaccine supply, Kendall said pregnant women will be the top priority next week. The following week will see vaccinations for healthcare workers, children between six months and five years, and pregnant women wanting unadjuvanted vaccine.

Asked about hockey teams jumping the queue to get vaccinations, Kendall said a doctor in Abbotsford had been contacted about following guidelines. "We'll contact sports organizations and ask them not to seek vaccinations yet," he said.

A reporter mentioned the recent report of a cat in the US contracting swine flu and asked if such animals could pose an additional hazard to humans. Kendall said small mammals were less of a concern in the long run than the "three P's" - people, pigs, and poultry - since viruses can mutate by mingling in any of the three species.

Kendall said vaccine side effects have been minor around the world, but local authorities have been tracking some adverse reactions locally "to see if they're in the same ballpark as reactions to seasonal flu vaccinations."

He also noted that "federal populations" such as the Canadian Forces and the RCMP are receiving vaccinations via "separate channels" from the regular vaccine. Kendall said that personally he would have preferred to allocate such supplies to vulnerable persons.

Asked how the hospitals have been coping, Kendall said some are seeing staff absenteeism, and that additional doctors are being assigned to see flu patients in emergency rooms. He added that elective hospital admissions may halt to make more beds available for flu patients.

In response to a question from The Tyee about the province being unready for an early rollout of the vaccine, Kendall said the issue was the lack of infrastructure for vaccination clinics until the following week. Hundreds of nurses had to be recruited, supplies distributed, and spaces rented before vaccination could begin.

Kendall is holding daily press conferences Monday to Friday to update the media on B.C.'s response to the H1N1 pandemic.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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