Canada shrugs off cost of flu vaccination campaign

Thu Nov 12, 2009 4:48pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's top medical official defended the national H1N1 vaccination campaign on Thursday, and said the costs of doing nothing would be far higher than the money spent immunizing millions of people.

The Globe and Mail newspaper, citing medical data from various levels of government, said Canada has so far spent C$1.5 billion ($1.4 billion) on the campaign -- more than twice as much as officials initially estimated.

But Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada's chief public health officer, said millions of people could become sick and thousands die if there was no vaccination program.

So far around 20 percent of Canada's 34 million population have been immunized, and there is no sign the virus has peaked, he said.

"This is a preventable disease. That's the key thing," said Butler-Jones, who declined to give a cost for the campaign.

"There's the cost for actually doing what we're doing and the cost if we don't, in terms of millions of illnesses, all those people off (work), lost productivity, people in hospital ... and people dying as a result of uncontrolled infection," he told reporters in Ottawa.

"That's going to be so many times what we're spending."

The vaccination campaign has been dogged with problems. Initial apathy was replaced by hours-long lines at vaccination clinics after a couple of high-profile deaths, and accompanied by anger that some people seemed to be jumping the line.   Continued...

<p>Canada's Chief Public Health Officer David Butler-Jones speaks during a news conference about swine flu outbreak in Ottawa April 27, 2009. REUTERS/Blair Gable</p>