OTTAWA - Canada's largest-ever immunization campaign is ready to go now that the federal government has approved the swine-flu vaccine.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced Wednesday the vaccine has been approved for use in Canada, allowing provinces and territories to proceed with H1N1 flu shots as soon as possible.
"We now have a safe and effective vaccine being distributed to provinces and territories that they will be rolling out in a matter of days," Aglukkaq told a news conference.
"I encourage all Canadians to get vaccinated because it is the best way to protect our health and the health of our loved ones."
Other countries have already begun vaccinations.
In Canada, priority for the swine-flu shot has been assigned to pregnant women, health workers, young children, people living in remote places, and adults with chronic conditions - the groups most vulnerable to the H1N1 virus.
Local health authorities will ask people at lower risk to wait until people at higher risk get the shots. But Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. David Butler-Jones, acknowledged the vaccinations are "not a rationing exercise" and no one will be turned away.
"We're not going to spend a lot of time trying to go through people's medical history. We want to get as many people immunized as possible," he said.
"I think Canadians have shown, time and time again, their respect for the most vulnerable."
Ottawa has agreed to shield drug companies from lawsuits over the H1N1 pandemic vaccine. That means the federal government, not the vaccine manufacturers, would have to pay any damages awarded in court, except in cases of malpractice.
Quebec is the only province with a no-fault compensation plan for harmful side-effects resulting from immunizations.
Canadian clinical trials of the vaccine are still underway, but the federal regulator was satisfied enough with the results of thousands of clinical trials in Europe to approve the drug in Canada.
Two million doses of the swine-flu vaccine had already been shipped to the provinces and territories, awaiting Aglukkaq's go-ahead.
The government aims to ship about three million doses a week as the vaccine rolls off the production line.
The Public Health Agency has developed national recommendations on the use of H1N1 flu vaccine, which include:
- All Canadians 10 years of age and older should get one dose of adjuvanted vaccine;
- Children from six months and up to 10 years of age should receive the adjuvanted vaccine in two half-doses, administered at least 21 days apart;
- Children less than six months old should not get the vaccine; and,
- Pregnant women should get one dose of the unadjuvanted vaccine. But if the unadjuvanted vaccine is unavailable and H1N1 flu rates are high or on the rise, women more than 20 weeks pregnant should get one dose of the adjuvanted vaccine.