Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Olympians should get H1N1 shots first: MD

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CANADIAN Olympic athletes should be one of the first in line for the H1N1 vaccine in case there is a swine-flu outbreak during the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, according to the team's top doctor.

Bob McCormack, chief medical officer for the Canadian Olympic Committee, said Tuesday that although the policy may seem unfair to other at-risk groups for the flu, including pregnant women, the elderly and aboriginals, the country's elite athletes should be safeguarded from sickness during their time on the international stage.

"They are a group that is at risk," he said in Vancouver. "Let's come up with a mechanism so they don't fall through the cracks and get missed completely for the vaccine."

The Public Health Agency of Canada has decided not to give the 200 Olympians priority for the vaccine, arguing there's still plenty of time for them to get it before the Games begin in February. But McCormack said the window of opportunity for the athletes to get vaccinated is quickly closing because most will leave Canada in November for pre-Olympics events and others face hectic training schedules.

"If they leave in mid-November and don't come back until the end of December or January, they will miss the window for vaccinations and run the risk of getting H1N1," he said. "And if they bring infections back to Canada, they will put other Canadians at risk."

McCormack said the athletes fit all the criteria of a high-risk group for contracting the swine flu, including their age, exposure to other international athletes, living in close confines and the stress on their immune systems because they "train themselves to exhaustion each day."

The H1N1 vaccine will be available to all Canadians by the first week of November.

-- Canwest News Service

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 14, 2009 C2

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