July 15, 2009 / 11:40 PM / in 8 years

2010 Games eyes vaccinations against H1N1

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Organizers of next year’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver are hoping to get thousands of volunteers and staff vaccinated against the H1N1 flu virus, a medical official said on Wednesday.

Organizers were already stockpiling antivirals and vaccine for next year’s expected seasonal flu in Canada and are now talking with Canadian and international health authorities about how to respond to the global swine flu pandemic.

“We’ll be doing a campaign trying to encourage all of our volunteers as well as our staff ... to get as many as possible vaccinated,” said Dr. Jack Taunton, chief medical officer of the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC).

The 2010 Games to be held in the west coast city in February will draw athletes, officials and visitors from around the world.

They will also involve 25,000 volunteers and 5,000 VANOC staff. Vaccinations cannot be mandated in Canada, so Taunton said that, based on past medical experience, it is unlikely all of the volunteers and staff would agree to do it.

Vaccination of athletes is the responsibility of each country’s national Olympic committees but Taunton said VANOC will be advising those committees about which flu viruses they should be protecting against.

VANOC highlighted the concern about the potential impact of the H1N1 flu on the Games with the announcement on Wednesday that its latest sponsor was ALDA Pharmaceuticals Corp, which produces hand sanitizers.

Medical officials say hand washing is a critical component in efforts to stop the flu’s spread.

“This is a product for the times we are in,” VANOC chief executive John Furlong told reporters.

The World Health Organization this week recommended healthcare workers should get priority access to H1N1 vaccinations to ensure health systems keep functioning as the swine flu pandemic spreads.

WHO also recommended priority for pregnant women, children and people with underlying diseases.

“We know there are other priorities and that we have to fit within that,” Taunton said. “We’re not going to be stepping up to the front of the line.”

Taunton said VANOC also recognized that development of a potential vaccine for the H1N1 flu has gone slower than some health officials had hoped.

“If it was produced at the same rate as seasonal flu (vaccine), we would be fine,” he said.

Editing by John O'Callaghan

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