TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada will likely not have an H1N1 flu vaccine available for distribution until early November, the chief medical officer of health said on Thursday, as officials scramble to prepare for an anticipated worsening of the pandemic later this year.
The November timetable lags that of many other countries including the United States, which expects to have a swine flu vaccine ready by mid-October, and Europe which is set to vaccinate some time this month.
"Early in November is the latest that we would go," David Butler-Jones, Canada's chief public health officer, said on a conference call, adding he was "confident that everything would line up."
However, he said there is a possibility that vaccinations could begin sooner if there is an earlier surge in the outbreak and if health officials are confident of the safety of the vaccine.
"All of these things are a classic assessment of the risks of waiting versus not waiting," Butler-Jones said. "If it looks like the risk of waiting -- even if there are still some unanswered questions -- is greater, then we would consider going earlier with the vaccine."
He also said more than 50 million doses of the vaccine will be available in Canada.
So far 73 Canadian have died from the illness.
Experts predict that a third of the global population -- more than 2 billion people -- will eventually be infected with H1N1. Every year, seasonal influenza infects between 5 percent and 20 percent of the population, depending on the circulating strains.
It kills less than a half of one percent of its victims but this adds up to between 250,000 and 500,000 people globally each year. It is not yet clear if the new pandemic H1N1 will be worse.
Reporting by Scott Anderson; editing by Rob Wilson