Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Make way for those in need

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MANITOBANS heard Thursday that there are shortages of H1N1 vaccine -- that flu shot clinics may be suspended -- because a problem with the supply from manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline is disrupting shipments across Canada. Ottawa initially promised 134,000 doses a week to Manitoba, but the second shipment, which arrived this week, was a disappointing 72,000. The province has no idea how much it will get next week.

It's not the worst thing that could happen to a government's careful pandemic planning model, but it isn't far off. Manitobans have embraced the H1N1 vaccine, swamping flu clinics this week after news broke that two Ontario children died of the virus. Reports have surfaced that some people in the high-risk group given priority for vaccination (about 320,000 Manitobans) have been turned away from overcrowded clinics. Now the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority says Winnipeg may run out of vaccine next Tuesday. Health Minister Theresa Oswald said health authorities may need to suspend vaccination clinics.

This is alarming news for those most likely to get very sick with the virus who have not yet been vaccinated. It presents no real danger to the vast majority of Manitobans because, to date, H1N1 has proven no more dangerous than the regular seasonal flu. H1N1's target is different, though, in that it hits younger, healthier people hardest, rather than the elderly. Ms. Oswald yesterday pleaded with Manitobans not at high risk to wait their turn so those on the priority list -- such as young children and people with chronic health conditions -- could get their shots. Health authorities should question those at the clinics about their risk factors.

The province's most pressing problem is that it does not know when it will get enough vaccine to finish vaccinating those most at risk. The biggest benefit of vaccination to pandemic plans comes from protecting that group.

The majority of those who contract H1N1 will be able to recuperate at home, without medical intervention. The unfortunate element is that the province, which initially planned to start general vaccinations in the third week, has no idea now when it can extend its invitation to everyone.

Flu epidemics generally peak in five weeks, which means H1N1 may peak in Manitoba by the end of November. Many, if not most, people will not be immunized before then. The silver lining is that while H1N1 travelled faster than anyone predicted, it is not the terrible killer that public health officials feared would test the efficacy of pandemic plans.

Only a few Manitobans direly need the vaccine. Everyone else should step aside to give those people their best shot at protection.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 30, 2009 A14

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