Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fallout anticipated from flu vaccine

Canada needs compensation plan

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OTTAWA -- A leading public health expert is calling on Canada to create a no-fault compensation program for people who may be harmed by an H1N1 flu vaccine that millions of Canadians will be urged to get this fall.

Kumanan Wilson, Canada research chair in public health at the University of Ottawa, said that children and adults could be exposed to an incompletely tested vaccine and that a compensation scheme is needed to encourage the public to buy into any mass immunization.

When the World Health Organization last month proclaimed swine flu the first pandemic since 1968, Canada's chief public health officer, David Butler-Jones, said everyone should get the new flu shot when it's available.

"The more people that have immunity, the easier it is to stop," he said.

But Canwest News Service has learned that, unlike the United States, the Public Health Agency of Canada has no plans to compensate people who may be injured by an H1N1 vaccine.

A vaccine injury program would give people who suffer an adverse reaction faster access to compensation without having to go through the legal system. Quebec is the only jurisdiction in Canada that has a non-fault compensation program.

Public Health Agency of Canada officials acknowledged last week there won't be time for a swine flu vaccine to go through standard safety testing before immunizations begin in autumn. The first doses are expected to be available in three to four months. Officials said they are working with regulators on ways to reduce any time required to get the vaccine out. Canada could invoke emergency provisions to get the vaccine out quicker, before all the data from human safety trials are complete.

That happened in 1976, when an outbreak of swine flu at the Fort Dix army base in New Jersey spawned a nationwide emergency vaccination program. Manufacturers wanted legal protection against vaccine-related injury claims, so Congress enacted legislation allowing people to sue the federal government. About 45 million Americans were vaccinated. Reports soon emerged of unusually high rates of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare, neurological disorder that can cause temporary paralysis. More than 5,000 people sued for vaccine-related injuries, resulting in payouts totalling $73 million. In the 1980s, the U.S. introduced no-fault compensation for all vaccines.

"I'm not saying we shouldn't roll out this vaccine (against H1N1 influenza)," said Wilson, an expert in pandemic planning. "I don't know how confident we will be in its efficacy and safety at the outset, but I don't think we'll have any choice but to roll it out, because, at this point, the only way to control the spread is going to be a vaccine."

But "there are going to be concerns about people not wanting to take the vaccine..." he said.

"We have been arguing that it needs to be complemented with a no-fault compensation program, just like in 1976, and we need to develop systems to pick up these adverse events."

As of July 15, 10,156 lab-confirmed cases of pandemic H1N1, including 45 deaths, had been reported in Canada.

-- Canwest News Service

Businesses advised

to roll out strategy

OTTAWA -- Canadian companies and organizations are being urged to consider the H1N1 flu pandemic as a "business continuity crisis" and to put response plans in place now, before the fall flu season.

The Conference Board of Canada report released Monday examines the actions some organizations have already taken and provides advice on what should be included in pandemic response plans.

Many businesses in Canada developed plans following the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002 and the emergence and spread of the avian flu, and those have been pulled from the shelves and dusted off since the H1N1 outbreak started in late April.

Those plans are now being tested and companies are determining how they can be applied to the H1N1 flu pandemic that has made more than 10,000 Canadians sick. The H1N1 flu is expected to hit more Canadians in the fall months which will mean many employees missing work.

Organizations have to be flexible and responsive to the latest information about the new flu illness, the report said, in order to protect their employees from getting sick and to react accordingly if they do fall ill.

-- Canwest News Service

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 21, 2009 A5

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