TORONTO - The first shipments of the H1N1 vaccine have already reached the provinces and territories to allow local health officials immediate access to the vaccine once it is approved, an official with the Public Health Agency of Canada said Sunday.
Northwest Territories, for example, has already received the vaccine supply it needs, the official, who did not want to be named, told The Canadian Press. PHAC has said it plans to give local health authorities until early November to organize the vaccination program.
News reports Sunday said the federal government is expected to approve the vaccine as early as this week and have it ready for distribution within a couple of days.
But PHAC spokesman Robert Paterson said the plan to have the vaccine available in early November has not changed.
"We're not speculating about any early availability and certainly any sort of speculation about an earlier time is not particularly helpful right now," Paterson said in an interview.
"So we are aiming for early November. And that's been our position all along and that's the position that we have right now."
The early batches will be earmarked for pregnant women and very young children.
So far British Columbia has been the hardest hit with the second wave of the swine flu, with eight deaths.
Health officials are concerned that similar outbreaks will happen in other parts of the country before a vaccine is available.
Timing is crucial since outbreaks last up to 12 weeks, so the goal is to get the vaccine to as many people as they can before the worst over.
After vaccination, it takes up to two weeks to develop an antibody to the virus.
Canada has been criticized for not getting out the vaccine quickly enough when it is already available in the United States and other countries.
But health officials said last week that while Canada may be behind other countries in rolling out its swine flu vaccine, Canadians will be immunized faster than people in other parts of the world.
The country's chief public health officer David Butler-Jones said on Wednesday that three million doses a week will be available in Canada once clinical trials and quality tests are complete.