Saturday, October 24, 2009

Listeriosis...isotopes...and now....H1N1?

Are they going for the trifecta in major health care failings? Could be. Given that they've paid remarkably little political price for their role in the first two, to date, they probably feel a little emboldened that they won't pay any price for missteps on H1N1 either. Just have Health Minister Aglukkaq and science guy Butler-Jones execute well-staged tours of facilities, lab technician photo-ops, a few scripted press conferences here and there and what could go wrong, right? Beyond the delay in getting the vaccine out, that is.

Well, maybe something else. Take a look at the headlines today. Two reports today with a similar theme: "Health officials scramble to counter H1N1 myths," and, "48% Canadians not keen on H1N1 vaccine: Poll." Both reports citing confusion in the public, first the Globe: the second wave of the H1N1 pandemic influenza virus entrenches itself in Canada and vaccination clinics swing their doors open next week, public health officials are rushing to debunk the myths about a virus that has sickened hundreds of thousands and a drug that will protect others from getting unnecessarily ill.

Canada's chief public health officer, David Butler-Jones, came out swinging Friday against the claims of those opposed to the vaccine. The federal regulator approved the drug this week, saying it is safe and effective. Canadians have a choice: Immunize themselves or face a real risk of disease, Dr. Butler-Jones said.

We risk losing ground if we start doubting … or taking the myths as fact,” he said. “Immunization is the only thing which will stop the pandemic and prevent however many people from needlessly becoming ill.”
And Canwest:
With federal officials declaring Friday that Canada is in its "second wave" of the H1N1 pandemic, a new poll reveals that almost half of Canadians do not plan to get the vaccine created to stop it.
The results reflect the division among Canadians who are now debating what to do when the H1N1 flu shot is available in their communities, as well as the challenge public health officials have ahead of them in trying to tip the balance towards immunization.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. David Butler-Jones and Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq tried to counter fears and confusion Friday during a news conference, in which they made the case for vaccination.

"There is a very real risk of the flu. Even in its mildest form, it's miserable and, at its worst, it kills or puts into ICUs and on ventilator support perfectly previous healthy young people," said Butler-Jones. "The choice is simple: a safe and effective preventive vaccine or a very real risk of disease. If we get the real facts about the vaccine, you will almost certainly choose immunization."


Canadians have a responsibility to "get the facts" about vaccines, said Aglukkaq, and Butler-Jones urged, in some of his strongest language yet, that people filter out bogus claims about vaccines when making their decision.

"There are so many competing voices out there that have no idea of what the science is that underlies this, or make up the science, or make associations with things which are blatantly not true," he said.

What ever could have helped to combat all those "competing voices out there" on a significant health issue? It's not like this Harper Government is reluctant to dip into the public purse to advertise just about anything they're involved in and in unprecedented amounts. Recall the 90 plus percent saturation rate in Canadians' knowledge about the Home Renovation Tax Credit:"An Angus Reid poll last month suggested "virtually all" Canadians - 92 per cent - were familiar with the program." Partisan concerns uber alles.

Yet other nations combating the recession have somehow managed to walk and chew gum at the same time. Britain advertised heavily on H1N1: "The British have been bombarded since the spring with a highly effective "Catch it, Bin it, Kill it" mass advertising campaign by their Department of Health." The Harper Government has been timid (and preoccupied) in comparison. Likely because they don't believe in federal leadership on the health file, it's all provincial to them, even at a time like this when provinces aren't likely to object to federal leadership at all.
It's possible that 5 per cent of Canada's population has already been infected with the virus and that another 20 to 30 per cent could get it over the next 18 months, Butler-Jones said.
Whether people's decisions on whether to get vaccinated or not will lead us into greater difficulties, we'll see. But the government's choices on what to prioritize in the public sphere have been made.

Update: The Ottawa Citizen report today on the vaccine's testing is worth a read too. It's stunning how far behind we've been as compared to the U.S. on this and their testing of their vaccine. We're doing "bizarro" vaccine approval up here. The U.S. is testing theirs then approving it. We're approving it, then testing it.