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Feds issue priority list for flu shots

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OTTAWA - Pregnant women, health workers, children, people living in remote places, and adults with chronic conditions should be first to roll up their sleeves for a swine flu shot when it's ready, says the country's top doctor.

Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada's chief public health officer, says those groups are the most vulnerable to the H1N1 virus.

"Keeping in mind that we've ordered enough vaccine for every Canadian that needs and wants to be immunized, our basic approach is to ensure that those that need it most get it first," he said Wednesday.

The Public Health Agency of Canada, which released its priority list for flu shots Wednesday, recommends that everyone get the vaccine, especially police and firefighters and poultry and swine workers.

Vaccinations are expected to start in November. That's weeks behind the United States, which is aiming to start inoculations in October, and Europe, which expects vaccinations to start this month.

An article by American researchers published last week in the journal Science warned the virus could peak in mid-October. However, Butler-Jones has said vaccinations could begin sooner if the virus surges before the flu shots are ready and health officials are convinced the vaccine is safe.

The federal government has signed a contract with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline to produce a new vaccine for swine flu. On Monday, the company said a single dose of swine flu vaccine is enough to protect most healthy adults from the virus.

Canada has ordered 50.4 million doses of the vaccine. Butler-Jones said that's enough for everyone who wants it.

"These groups are not listed in priority sequences," he said.

"Provinces and territories will use the guidance for planning purposes and will interpret it based on local circumstances and realities. Each of these groups is important."

Saskatchewan Health Minister Don McMorris said the priority list should be flexible.

"Certainly we want to see the work that they've done, we want also to have flexibility ... around the sequencing that we are doing, the vulnerable groups, pregnant women, children under the age of five."

The vaccine priority list mirrors recommendations made by the World Health Organization and the U.S. government.

The World Health Organization has recommended that countries first offer vaccine to health-care workers to ensure systems are able to cope with the expected increase in demand.

It suggests if vaccine has to be rationed at first, countries should consider putting pregnant women, children and adults with chronic health conditions at the front of the line.

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