WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Canada is well-prepared if a second wave of the H1N1 flu pandemic hits this fall, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said on Tuesday, following criticism of the country's state of readiness by a leading medical journal.
"We are well-positioned, we are seen as world leaders responding to the pandemic," Aglukkaq told reporters after announcing funds to build new health-care facilities in remote aboriginal communities.
Canada, a country of 33.6 million people, plans to buy 50.4 million doses of pandemic vaccine and begin immunizations in November. Canada was the first country in the world to develop a pandemic plan and will now refine it before flu season begins this fall, said Dr. David Butler-Jones, the country's chief public health officer, who was answering questions with Aglukkaq.
The current plan will not be able to immunize in time vulnerable populations such as aboriginal people, young children and people with chronic medical conditions, the Canadian Medical Association Journal said in an editorial on Monday.
Australia and the United States are taking a faster approach to licensing vaccines without adjuvants for vulnerable groups, the journal said. An adjuvant is a substance added to the vaccine to improve the immune response so that less vaccine is needed.
"Time is running out. Only by providing fast-track standard vaccine (without adjuvants) might high-risk groups be protected in a timely way," the journal said.
Vaccines with adjuvants have been shown to work better than those without and protect against changes in the virus, Butler-Jones said.
"The goal in Canada is to ensure as much vaccine as possible as soon as possible," he said. "At the same time, it must be considered safe and effective."
The flu pandemic has killed 72 people in Canada.
Local health authorities across Canada are planning for a surge of patients in intensive care units, Butler-Jones said. The best way for the Canadian government to support ICUs is to make vaccines available as soon as possible, he said.
A conference of Canadian and international public health officials that is set to start in the Western Canadian city of Winnipeg on Wednesday will help sort out how people will be prioritized for vaccination, Aglukkaq said.
Reporting by Rod Nickel; editing by Peter Galloway