Thursday, October 01, 2009

Lack of federal leadership on H1N1

The federal government should be taking a leadership position here and providing assurance to Canadians that its Public Health Agency knows what it is doing. Instead, we're hearing little and provinces are going in different directions with their vaccination plans: "Provincial flu plans all over the map." What's a Canadian to think? They're getting seasonal flu shots first in New Brunswick, Quebec and Nunavut are going with H1N1 vaccinations first and other provinces are doing a sequencing approach. What a mess.
Two provinces and a territory have split ranks with the rest of Canada's health authorities in their fall immunization plans, sowing public confusion and raising questions of whether Canadians are being offered the safest options.

The hodge-podge of vaccination strategies comes after a controversial, unpublished study suggested that people under 50 are twice as likely to contract the H1N1 virus if they have received a seasonal flu shot compared to unvaccinated people.

With no data revealing the optimal way of rolling out vaccines against the looming double threat of seasonal flu and the pandemic swine flu virus, the abrupt changes by provinces and territories could create disarray in inoculation programs, with fewer people turning up for either shot, potentially resulting in more cases of severe illness.

New Brunswick's public health authorities, skeptical about the science behind the Canadian study, have moved up seasonal flu shots for all their residents to October before proceeding to the pandemic vaccine campaign. Meanwhile, Quebec and Nunavut are deferring their seasonal flu campaigns until after their H1N1 mass vaccination clinics.

Other provinces and territories – Ontario, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories and Yukon – have decided on a three-step approach. They will offer seasonal shots next month only to the elderly, who are at low risk of catching H1N1, and residents of long-term care facilities; then they will roll out the swine flu vaccine when it becomes available in November, and resume seasonal flu shots in December or January. Alberta will announce its decision Thursday.

“We'll know who's smarter at the end of the flu season,” said Ross Upshur, director of the University of Toronto's Joint Centre for Bioethics and a primary care physician. “What we assuredly have is an outbreak of unpublished research which is causing an epidemic of confusion.”
An epidemic of confusion and the Health Minister is missing in action...call me crazy but moments like these are the ones where we want leadership from our federal government.

More here.