Canadian Government Wasted
Millions on H1N1 Fear Mongering
The federal and Ontario government wasted millions of dollars with badly-timed advertising for H1N1 influenza shots, the local medical officer of health says.
"The real problem is not so much how much money was spent but how the money was used and when it was used," Dr. Richard Schabas said.
Government figures obtained through a federal information request by The National Post showed the Canadian government spent $37 million on advertising and other communication about last year's flu outbreak.
The newspaper quoted an estimate showing the Public Health Agency of Canada spent $322 million on pandemic campaign. Hundreds of millions more were spent by provinces and their health units on vaccine and advertising, the report said, putting the total federal and provincial H1N1 spending at a minimum of $1 billion.
Schabas told The Intelligencer much of the vaccinations themselves came too late. He questioned the need for the extensive advertising for something he said may not have been necessary in the first place.
"People should understand that the H1N1 outbreak in Canada and Ontario and certainly Hastings and Prince Edward Counties reached its peak in the last week in October and by the middle of November there was really no value in immunization," he said. "But the provincial government and the federal government persisted promoting immunization long after the danger had passed and spent a great deal of money doing that."
"The lesson is look at the evidence and base your decisions on the evidence, not on pre-existing plans. If you have a plan that you wrote years ago and you just stick to that regardless of changing circumstances you're going to end up frightening people unnecessarily, disrupting people's lives and wasting money."
Schabas has long been a critic of government response to pandemics. Prior to the fall H1N1 outbreak, he predicted it would not cause significant illness and related problems. Statistics later showed that to be the case.
He said his latest comments weren't intended to remind governments he and others were correct in earlier critiques, but that the outbreak's results were predictable.
"This is not an observation in hindsight," said Schabas.
"The evidence was there and at least some people, including me, spoke out about this before the fact and not just after the fact."
Debra Lynkowski, chief executive officer of the Canadian Public Health Association, defended the advertising campaign.
She said it would have been needed had the outbreak been worse.
"It's the difference between dealing with the health of an individual and dealing with the health of a population," she told The Post.
"If we hadn't implemented the plan and we hadn't invested and the outbreak was more severe, we can only guess what the price might have been in human lives or the health-care system."
Schabas dismissed that stance.
"That's a little bit like saying, 'If the Maple Leafs had won the Stanley Cup we wouldn't have been prepared for the victory parade,'" he said.
"This is not a what-if situation anymore. The facts are there. And the facts are very clear. The fact is the outbreak wasn't worse. In fact it was predictable it wasn't going to be worse. The vaccine didn't arrive until at or after the peak of the outbreak.
"Canada did more immunization, I think, than did any other country in the world.
"Poland did no immunization at all ... and their rates of disease were about the same as ours."
April 14, 2010