Ontario could soon run out of swine flu vaccine
Health Minister Deb Matthews says she can't say exactly when, but Ontario will run out of regular swine flu vaccine by the week's end.
Some public health units could run out even sooner, she told reporters at Queen's Park on Wednesday.
"Our public health units are working overtime. They are expanding the hours, they are getting the vaccine out and protecting Ontarians as quickly as they can," Matthews said. "The issue is not our ability to deliver the vaccine. The issue, right now, is supply."
Another 200,000 doses should arrive from the federal government next week, she said.
However, there is a good supply of the unadjuvanted vaccine for women who are fewer than 20 weeks pregnant. The province is currently distributing 86,800 doses, Matthews said.
The regular, adjuvanted vaccine uses a booster that gives a better immune response with less active ingredient (known formally as the antigen).
At a briefing Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Arlene King, the province's chief medical officer of health, said they have about 3.4 million people in the high-priority groups, so the 2.2 million doses aren't enough to vaccinate all those individuals.
The province will be receiving another 189,000 doses of the unadjuvanted vaccine. but the quantities and timing of future deliveries are unclear, she said.
"I think it's reasonable to say that it's difficult to plan when you don't know from week to week how much product you're going to get," King said. "So that is a primary point of disappointment right now and difficulties with planning."
King revealed the cumulative death toll since April is 37, up four from Monday. A total of 707 people have been hospitalized, with 108 currently in hospital. Sixty-five of those people are in intensive care, she said.
In question period at Queen's Park, the opposition parties accused the government of bungling the vaccine rollout.
When clinics began in Toronto last week, some people were in line for up to seven hours. This week, things appear to be operating much more smoothly.
Whatever the earlier problems, Matthews said the province is on track to have more than two million people vaccinated by week's end.
However, she admitted the province won't be able to have everyone in the province immunized within four weeks.
Once the supply of flu vaccine starts to ramp up again, Matthews suggested the province might add school-aged children to the list of priority groups, which includes:
- pregnant women
- children between six months and less than five years of age
- people under age 65 with chronic conditions (eg. asthma, diabetes)
- household contacts and care providers of persons at high risk who cannot be immunized or may not respond to vaccines
- health-care workers
- people living in remote areas
Any local health unit that has more vaccine than if can deliver to the high-priority groups will see its surplus "redeployed" to ones with shortfalls, Matthews added.
At a Tuesday news conference, King said she couldn't say when immunization might begin for the general public.
Flu assessment clinics
Flu assessment clinics will soon be opening across the Greater Toronto Area for people who feel sick from flu-like symptoms in a bid to ease congestion in hospitals and doctors offices.
Health officials say people will not be able to receive H1N1 vaccine at these clinics and that staff will only help people who have fallen ill.
York Region opened its first flu assessment clinic on Tuesday. The centre is part of the region's public health pandemic plan, according to a news release.
"Opening a Community Flu Assessment Centre expands the Region's response to H1N1 and allows emergency rooms to focus on treating people who are critically ill or have life-threatening illnesses or injuries," said Dr. Karim Kurji, York Region's medical officer of health. "This enables us to bring a variety of health workers together to assist people in the community who are not able to manage their flu symptoms at home."
Toronto Public Health is expected to announce whether or not it will be opening up any flu assessment clinics in the city.
There are currently 20 assessment centres open in Ontario, including in the Kingston, Niagara and Hamilton regions.
Symptoms of the flu include:
- sore throat
- muscle aches and/or joint pains
However, health officials are asking people with the following list of symptoms to visit an emergency department instead of heading to an assessment clinic:
- difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- chest pain
- severe or persistent vomiting
- confusion or difficulty waking up
- sudden dizziness
Patients are seen on a first come, first-serve basis, though those who have severe conditions will be fast-tracked to the front of the line. The clinics will be staffed by registered nurses.
York Region's assessment clinic, located at 9401 Jane Street in Vaughan, will be open seven days a week.
- Monday to Thursday 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.
- Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
With a report from CTV Toronto's Paul Bliss