October 29, 2009 / 9:40 PM / in 8 years

Canadians warned of flu vaccine shortages

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian officials warned on Thursday that vaccines for the H1N1 virus were likely to be in short supply, as thousands of people across the country lined up to get flu shots.

<p>Six-year-old Shea McAlpine reacts while receiving the H1N1 influenza vaccination in Ottawa October 26, 2009. Health care workers across the country began administrating H1N1 influenza vaccine shots on Monday. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>

Within about half an hour of clinics opening for high-risk patients in Toronto on Thursday, officials started turning people away and warning those in line that they might have to wait six or seven hours.

The Prairie province of Manitoba said the federal government had warned the provinces that “significantly less vaccine” would be delivered than had been expected.

“Regional health authorities may have to adjust their clinic schedules, including postponing clinic dates, until there is sufficient vaccine supply,” it said.

In Toronto, Canada’s largest city, public health spokeswoman Rishma Govani said public sentiment on the H1N1 virus had swung from complacency to concern after headline news that a teenager and a young girl had died from the H1N1 virus.

“The whole outlook changed within days and escalated and expanded,” Govani said, noting that Toronto had moved up its plans for opening clinics to the public by several days.

“People just got scared or panicked.”

She said the city’s public health officials wanted people to get vaccinated when possible, but the effect of H1N1, also called swine flu, was usually mild unless there were pre-existing medical conditions.

But two high-profile cases in the province of Ontario rang alarm bells with the public. A 10-year-old girl with no previous medical problems died from the flu in Eastern Ontario and a teenage hockey player died in Toronto.

“The medical experts are emphasizing that those examples are exceptions,” Govani said.

At the East York Civic Center in Toronto’s east end, Meegan Loudon had already waited four hours with two children, aged 4 and 7, and she was still far from the front of the queue.

“The feeling isn’t one of overwhelming frustration,” Loudon said. “It feels like everyone here is trying to do the best they can.”

The Canadian government has ordered enough vaccines for everyone in Canada, which has a population of more than 33 million. Vaccinations began this week for children, the elderly and other high-risk groups, with clinics ramping up in increasing numbers next week.

Reporting by Randall Palmer and Jeffrey Hodgson in Toronto; editing by Rob Wilson

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