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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Afghan detainees of the Canadian Armed Forces will receive H1N1 flu vaccinations on the same priority level as soldiers and ahead of the Canadian general public, a decision that Canada's health minister called "outrageous".
Afghans being detained by the Canadian military at their base at Kandahar in southern Afghanistan will have the opportunity to be vaccinated starting Wednesday, the Canadian Press reported military officials as saying on Tuesday.
"Personally, I'm very disturbed by the news," Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq told a news conference in Ottawa. "We did not make this outrageous decision and I've asked my officials to look into that."
Aglukkaq declined to comment on whether she has authority over such decisions by the Canadian military, saying she had only found out about the detainee vaccinations on Tuesday afternoon.
"We've always said Canadians, those are our priorities," she said.
The Canadian Press reported that the Canadian military had decided to vaccinate detainees suspected of Taliban involvement to abide by Geneva conventions that require prisoners to receive the same treatment as soldiers. The Canadian Press also quoted a military official as saying that vaccinating detainees will help prevent the pandemic's spread.
A shortage of vaccine supply has temporarily forced Manitoba and some Canadian provinces to postpone vaccinations, while other provinces continue to vaccinate only residents deemed most vulnerable to H1N1. Vaccination of the general public won't begin for weeks in much of Canada, with the program not complete until the end of December.
The federal government will have delivered 8.5 million doses of vaccine to provincial governments by the end of this week, said Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada's chief public health officer. An estimated 6 million Canadians, or about 18 percent of the population, have been vaccinated so far, he said.
Some health officials have said the H1N1 flu may peak in Canada before most Canadians get their shots. The steadily accelerating pace of doctors subscribing antiviral drugs suggests that's not the case, Butler-Jones said.
"Seems to me we're just picking up speed here."
GlaxoSmithKline Plc is Canada's sole supplier of the vaccine. A second type of vaccine that is recommended for pregnant women is supplied to Canada by Australia's CSL Ltd
Editing by Peter Galloway