O Canada, spare some flu vaccine?
For now, the answer is: No.
Many northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan residents who live only an hour or so from Ontario may be tempted to make a run for the border to get a flu shot in Canada, much as they go there for prescription drugs.
But Canadian health officials say they're not about to start letting Americans use up their vaccine supply.
"We don't want people to come to Ontario only to be disappointed. The free flu vaccine program we have is for Ontario residents only," said Dan Strasborg, spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. He said provincial and federal health authorities in Canada are telling those who distribute government-purchased flu vaccine - and in Canada, almost all vaccine is government-purchased - to provide it to Canadian residents only. Some pharmacies and other locations have purchased their own supply and may sell to Americans, but Mr. Strasborg doubted there would be much supply available from those vendors.
Still, a limited amount of that vaccine might eventually make its way south. Yesterday the Food and Drug Administration said the agency is in "active negotiations" with a Canadian manufacturer to obtain an extra 1.5 million doses of flu vaccine.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said "it's possible" the vaccine from ID Biomedical would make it to U.S. consumers this flu season.
Vaccine supplies to the United States, expected to be about 100 million doses this season, were cut nearly in half this month when authorities discovered that vaccine from one of two suppliers, Chiron Corp., was potentially contaminated and could not be used, cutting off 46 million to 48 million expected doses.
That left the United States with about 55 million doses available from the second and only other manufacturer, Aventis Pasteur. Aventis told U.S. officials yesterday that it would be able to produce another 2.6 million doses in January, for a total of 58 million doses.
The record vaccine shortage has resulted in long lines at locations distributing vaccine.
Just ask Billie Derivan, director of the James "Wes" Hancock Senior Center in Oregon.
"The phone is ringing all day, every day, every two or three minutes," she said yesterday. Her center at 5760 Bayshore Rd. will host a flu-shot clinic tomorrow at 9 a.m. but has only between 200 and 250 doses
Ms. Derivan said she's had far more calls than that from those inquiring about vaccine and only half-jokingly said she expects "a riot."
"I've had people say they're going to show up at 5 a.m.," she said.
Ms. Derivan said she's telling callers to be patient and not panic. She said flu-shot clinics are scheduled for high-risk patients only through November at many locations, so the public shouldn't rush out all at once and try getting vaccinated.
Health experts say the flu doesn't typically arrive until late December, so getting vaccinated in November still will provide protection.
In the meantime, federal authorities continue to ask that healthy adults refrain from getting vaccinated to leave enough for those at greatest risk. Among those are seniors 65 and older, those with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, children ages 6 to 23 months, and health-care workers who have direct contact with patients.
Though it might raise some eyebrows, some federal and state prison inmates will have access to scarce flu vaccine supplies. However, prison officials say vaccine likewise will be given to high-risk inmates only, not healthy inmates. That's the policy being followed by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. Lucas County jail officials said they did not receive any vaccine for inmates this year.
Tommy Thompson, U.S. Health and Human Services secretary, yesterday aggressively defended the administration's response to the shortage in the wake of criticism from Sen. John Kerry, President Bush's Democratic challenger, who has interjected the issue into the presidential campaign.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.