November 3, 2009 / 4:27 PM / 10 years ago

Canada may opt for varied vaccine supply in future

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian government, facing public impatience over the pace of vaccinations for the H1N1 flu, defended its use of a single vaccine supplier on Tuesday but said it would consider use of several sources of vaccine for future pandemics.

Two-year-old Ellon reacts while receiving the H1N1 pandemic vaccine from a nurse at the The East York Civic Centre clinic in Toronto October 29, 2009. REUTERS/ Mike Cassese

“We are doing better than any other country in producing vaccine on a per capita basis, with one company,” said Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq in a news conference in Vancouver, British Columbia.

But Chief Public Health Officer Dr. David Butler-Jones added that after the pandemic ends, Canada will consider whether to use more than one supplier in the case of future pandemics “to hedge our bets”.

Canada has vaccinated between 10 and 20 percent of the population in many communities, Butler-Jones said, but he said he does not know how many people have been vaccinated overall.

The federal government has distributed 6 million doses so far to the provinces and territories, Aglukkaq said.

Access to vaccine across the country varies. The sparsely populated northern territory of Nunavut has its entire supply of vaccine for the general population, while the western province of Manitoba has temporarily shut down clinics because of a shortage.

The vaccination of all Canadians who want the vaccine remains on track for completion by December 25, Butler-Jones said.

Canada relies only on GlaxoSmithKline Plc for its H1N1 vaccine. Though Canada has received more than three times as many doses, on a per capita basis, than the United States, hours-long lineups have formed in big cities to get the shots as demand has grown faster than vaccine supplies.

GlaxoSmithKline produced 2 million doses a week for three weeks but this week is cutting back to about 700,000 doses because of the requirement that it produce a special variety for pregnant women. Distribution should return to 2 million doses next week and 3 million per week thereafter, Butler-Jones said.

The United States now has five vaccine suppliers for both seasonal and H1N1 flu, so that if one has a problem there is an alternative source.

In 2004, a Chiron plant in Britain was closed by health inspectors and the United States lost half its flu vaccine supply in one fell swoop.

Reporting by Randall Palmer and Rod Nickel; editing by Peter Galloway

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