Canada cannot provide a quick fix to the flu vaccine shortage in the United States, even if has its own surplus of the medicine, top Canadian health officials said on Monday.
Canada will not know if it has a surplus for several weeks, and U.S. regulators would then have to grant special licenses before the extra medicine could be shipped over the border, Health Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. David Butler-Jones said. Officials said Canada is willing to help, but domestic needs come first. They caution that even if the hurdles are overcome, Canada can only replace a small portion of the expected U.S. shortfall. “It is not a quick fix,” Butler-Jones told reporters. The United States is faced with a shortage of about 45 million doses of vaccine after British officials suspended the license of a major supplier, Chiron Corp., because of potential contamination. President Bush suggested in a campaign debate with Senator John Kerry that the United States could look to Canada and other allies to help with the shortage. The Canadian government buys about 10 million doses of flu vaccine each year for distribution by clinics and doctors. It uses suppliers, ID Biomedical Corp and Aventis-Pasteur . Most vaccinations are done in October and November at the start of the flu season, and demand will depend on the extent of the outbreak, officials said. “We don’t know yet what is going to happen with this year’s flu season,” Butler-Jones said. Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration license their countries’ vaccine supplies independently, so any extra medicine would require special approval before it is shipped over the border. Butler-Jones said Health Canada has been in communication with the FDA over the issue, but Federal Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh said he was unaware of any formal request for help from the U.S. government. “Our first priority is the availability of flu vaccines for Canadians … if we can share it in a way that doesn’t jeopardize the safety and supply for Canadians, we would do so,” Dosanjh told reporters in Ottawa. ID Biomedical said it has about 1 million extra does and has told the FDA it is willing to help. The doses were not part of the production earmarked for Canada so would not reduce domestic supply, a company spokeswoman said. (Source: Reuters, Oct 2004)