VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Canadian health officials on Wednesday defended the pace of their H1N1 vaccination program, saying it was more ambitious than a U.S. initiative even though it was starting later.
Canada does not expect to begin vaccinating people until early November once testing and regulatory approval is completed, but says the plan is to make sure it is available for everyone who wants it.
"This is the largest immunization plan in history, we have to get it right," said Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada's chief medical health officer said at a news conference.
Clusters of outbreaks have cropped up in Canada, but the virus appears to be spreading more slowly than in the United States where some vaccinations have begun, Butler-Jones said.
The U.S. vaccine differs from the one Canada is preparing to use in that it contains small amounts of live virus, making it unsuitable for inoculating the elderly and young children, who have the highest risk of getting the disease, Butler-Jones said.
"The fact that they have access to the vaccine is nice. ... That's a useful thing, but in small amounts and for a small number of people and not those at greatest risk of serious disease, Butler-Jones.
Officials acknowledged that Canadian production of the H1N1 vaccine started behind other countries, but said it was because the supplier needed to complete work on the vaccine being used on this year's seasonable flu.
Europe was able to start its clinical trials on its vaccine before Canada because it had supplies available sooner, but the data from those tests will also be considered by Canada as it gives its vaccine final approval.
Reporting by Allan Dowd, Editing by Frank McGurty