A leading public health expert is calling on Canada to create a no-fault compensation program for people who may be harmed by a swine flu vaccine that millions of Canadians will be urged by the government to get this fall.
Kumanan Wilson, Canada research chair in public health at the University of Ottawa, says that children and adults could be exposed to an incompletely tested vaccine and that a compensation scheme is needed to encourage the public to buy into any mass immunization program.
When the World Health Organization last month proclaimed swine flu the first pandemic since 1968, Canadas chief public health officer, David Butler-Jones, said everyone should get the new flu shot when it becomes available.
The more people that have immunity, the easier it is to stop, he said.
But Canwest News Service has learned that, unlike the United States, the Public Health Agency of Canada has no plans to compensate people who may be injured by an H1N1 vaccine.
A vaccine injury program would give people who suffer an adverse reaction faster access to compensation without having to go through the legal system. Quebec is the only jurisdiction in Canada that has a no-fault compensation program.
Public Health Agency of Canada officials acknowledged last week there wont be time for a swine flu vaccine to go through standard safety testing before immunizations begin in autumn. The first doses are expected to be available in three to four months. Officials said they are working with regulators on ways to reduce any time required for getting the vaccine out. Canada could invoke emergency provisions to get the vaccine out quicker, before all the data from human trials that test safety are complete.
That happened in 1976, when an outbreak of swine flu at the Fort Dix army base in New Jersey spawned a nationwide emergency vaccination program. Manufacturers wanted legal protection against vaccine-related injury claims, so Congress enacted legislation allowing people to sue the federal government. About 45 million Americans were vaccinated. Reports soon emerged of unusually high rates of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare, neurological disorder that can cause temporary paralysis. More than 5,000 people sued for vaccine-related injuries, resulting in payouts totalling $73 million. In the 1980s, the U.S. introduced no-fault compensation for all vaccines.
Im not saying we shouldnt roll out this vaccine (against H1N1 influenza), said Wilson, an expert in pandemic planning.
I dont know how confident we will be in its efficacy and safety at the outset, but I dont think well have any choice but to roll it out, because, at this point, the only way to control the spread is going to be a vaccine.
But there are going to be concerns about people not wanting to take the vaccine, health-care workers in particular, he said.
We have been arguing that it needs to be complemented with a no-fault compensation program, just like in 1976, and we need to develop systems to pick up these adverse events.
As of July 15, a total of 10,156 laboratory-confirmed cases of pandemic H1N1, including 1,115 hospitalizations and 45 deaths, had been reported in Canada.
A new study of the outbreak of swine flu at a private school in Nova Scotia in April the first cases of human-to-human infection in Canada found that, unlike regular season flu, only 59 per cent had a fever. Common symptoms included cough, headache, sore throat and nasal congestion.
The study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, showed that vaccination with the regular seasonal flu shot didnt protect the vaccinated kids from swine flu, and that symptoms sent 80 per cent of those infected to the campus infirmary.
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