Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Vaccine available to all: Selinger

Flu shots for H1N1 may be OK'd this week

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Premier Greg Selinger said every Manitoban will have access to the free H1N1 vaccine once it's approved by Ottawa as early as Wednesday.

Selinger, before he was sworn in as Manitoba's 21st premier, was fully briefed by provincial health officials on how Manitoba will combat the spread of the H1N1 flu.

"I think the message I just wanted to give today was, anybody in Manitoba who wants or needs access to the vaccine will have it in Manitoba," Selinger said. "So it will be available to all Manitobans if they want or need it. And then as the week rolls out, we will give further details about that."

Canada has shipped two million doses of the vaccine to provinces and territories, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said in Ottawa Monday.

"Two million doses of vaccine have already been shipped to provinces and territories to facilitate the implementation of their programs, once authorization is given," Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. David Butler-Jones, said at a news conference.

It's anticipated that eventually three million doses per week or more will be available across the country, Butler-Jones added.

"Pre-positioning" the vaccine across the country before approval is part of good planning, Aglukkaq said.

Manitoba Health Minister Theresa Oswald is expected to detail the province's vaccination plan immediately after it's approved by Ottawa. Health officials had been planning for a vaccination program by early November, but it appears now those programs will be rolled out sooner. Health Canada is expected to approve use of the vaccine as early as Wednesday.

In Manitoba, the priority list for H1N1 vaccinations is likely to include people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions, health-care workers and aboriginal people. All flu shots are voluntary, even for health-care workers.

The H1N1 virus is different than the seasonal flu in that it has hit younger people and aboriginal people the hardest. There has been 892 confirmed cases of H1N1 reported, with more than one-third being aboriginals. Seven Manitobans have died.

Officials want to vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as possible before the flu season hits. Once vaccinated, it takes about two weeks to build up protection against catching the flu.

British Columbia and the Northwest Territories are well into their flu seasons, with sporadic flu activity elsewhere in the country, Butler-Jones said. An outbreak, such as the one in B.C., can last up to 12 weeks.

Selinger said $50 million has already been earmarked by the province on flu-fight preparations and that cost will likely go up as bills come in for equipment and staffing.

"I'm confident that Manitoba is well-positioned to respond to that," he said. "It's obviously something that we have been preparing for since the spring. There has been a tremendous amount of work done on that by the Health Department and all of the people in the health care system."

Meanwhile, the province and Ottawa signed an agreement Monday that will have the Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization develop emergency management programs in First Nation communities.

Because First Nations fall under federal jurisdiction, but emergency preparedness and health care are provincial responsibilities, reserves often get left out or left behind when events happen.

A perfect example of that happened last April during spring flooding. More than half of the Manitobans evacuated were from reserves.

While the province made the call on evacuations, Ottawa had to first agree to pay for evacuees from reserves. That led to confusion and misinformation on First Nations about what to do.

-- With files from Canadian Press and Mia Rabson

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 20, 2009 A5

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