Canada's chief public health officer defended yesterday the right of one of the country's flu-vaccine manufacturers to sell to the United States.
David Butler-Jones said ID Biomedical met all its commitments to the Canadian market before it sought to sell its surplus south of the border. And he said that if it came to a choice between vaccinating a healthy Canadian or an ailing, elderly American, the call would be an easy one:
"A sick American versus a healthy Canadian? . . . I would give it to the American who's at high risk."
A vaccine supplier's failure to meet its contract has left the United States with a shortage of roughly 45 million doses this year. High-risk Americans, unable to find vaccine at home, have been streaming across the border to get flu shots in Canada.
They are not eligible for the vaccine reserved for Canada's publicly funded flu-shot programs, which provinces and territories pay for. That vaccine, the bulk of Canada's supply, is reserved for Canadians deemed to be at high risk: the old, the very young, pregnant women and those with chronic conditions.
Instead, Americans must access the much smaller pool of privately purchased flu vaccine, often administered in Canadian pharmacies or clinics to healthy adults for a fee. The private market in Canada has generally been small. Roughly 1.5 million doses were supplied to the private market this year. In some areas, those supplies are running short.
A couple of companies that recently sought more vaccine have criticized ID Biomedical for planning to sell to the United States. (The sale still requires approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.) ID Biomedical says it filled all its Canadian orders, and more, before it offered 1.2 million doses of uncommitted vaccine to U.S. purchasers.