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Provinces, territories receive first shipments of H1N1 vaccine: Aglukkaq

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OTTAWA - Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq says two million doses of the swine flu vaccine have been shipped to the provinces and territories to await final sign off from Ottawa.

The vaccine is undergoing regulatory approval before the federal government gives the green light to start the H1N1 flu shots.

"As the vaccine rolls off the production line, it is being shipped to locations across the country," Aglukkaq said Monday.

"Two million doses have been shipped to provinces and territories and more will come this week. Of course, it will be released once it has completed the approvals process and that process is well underway."

The Public Health Agency of Canada has said it is aiming to have the vaccine available in early November.

Other countries have already begun vaccinations. The United States has started giving swine flu shots to people in groups thought to be at greater risk, such as children and health care workers.

Japan started its vaccinations Monday and the U.K. is expected to start later this week.

Aglukkaq and Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. David Butler-Jones, wouldn't confirm reports 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.

"Given we're within a very short period to the time that we've always talked about being ready before the beginning of November, I think it's important that we get the assurance from the regulator about the confidence in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine," Butler-Jones said.

Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline has a contract to produce 50.4 million doses of pandemic vaccine at its facility in Ste-Foy, Que.

But there are concerns about the new vaccine, which contains adjuvants, or compounds that boost the immune system's response to vaccine, allowing for smaller doses.

There's currently no licensed flu vaccine containing adjuvant in Canada, although adjuvants have been used for years in Europe in flu vaccine targeted at seniors.

There are no data on the use of so-called adjuvanted flu vaccine in pregnant women, which may add to the already high degree of reluctance many pregnant women feel about taking any medication or therapy.

There is also little data on the safety of the additives in vaccines given to children.

Though it had first said it would only buy adjuvanted vaccine, the federal government later ordered 1.8 million doses of vaccine that does not contain adjuvants for pregnant women and young children. But the doses shipped this week contain adjuvants.

The vaccine without adjuvants needs to be formulated and packaged separately from the adjuvanted vaccine, which is why they are being shipped separately, Butler-Jones said.

He couldn't say when the vaccine without adjuvants will be shipped.

"At the moment it's too soon to say. Again, it's still going through quality testing, all of those kinds of factors, so we don't have a specific date yet," he said.

Despite not having shipped any non-adjuvanted vaccine, Butler-Jones urged pregnant women to get the shot.

"The risk to pregnant women from contracting H1N1 are much, much higher than any theoretical risk posed by adjuvanted vaccine," he said.

"And many countries are using only adjuvanted vaccines for everyone, including pregnant women."

The House of Commons health committee is scheduled to hear from vaccine maker GlaxoSmith Kline and other health officials later this week.

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