OTTAWA - A sweeping ad campaign is planned over the next few weeks to prod reluctant Canadians to get the swine-flu shot, The Canadian Press has learned.
The new campaign comes as officials try to persuade a wary public to roll up their sleeves for the H1N1 vaccine - though the ads won't be ready when most provinces begin their vaccination campaigns Monday.
Unlike the current crop of ads, which tell Canadians to cough and sneeze into their sleeves and to wash their hands with soap and water, the new batch will urge people to get the swine-flu shot.
"There will be more coming over the month, for sure," said Tim Vail, a spokesman for Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq.
"It's not going to be a tsunami. We have ads out there now about being prepared (and) those ads will continue to go out. And as those buys are done, we'll be talking about becoming vaccinated."
The Public Health Agency of Canada has already spent millions of dollars informing Canadians about the H1N1 virus and how to avoid infection.
The agency topped up its marketing budget this month to $8.5 million, which is being spent on newspaper and public transit ads and radio spots that began airing recently.
But many Canadians remain uneasy about the flu shot or unconvinced they should get it.
A recent Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll indicates Canadians don't seem to see the H1N1 virus as a personal threat, and few currently plan to get vaccinated against the virus.
The survey, conducted from Oct. 1 to 5, suggested only a third of people say they will get the shot compared to 45 per cent in late August.
The concern may come from mixed messages that have dogged health officials trying to convince Canadians the vaccine is safe and needed.
There was an unpublished study that suggested people who got a seasonal flu shot last year had double the risk of catching swine flu compared with people who didn't get it.
But the Public Health Agency of Canada has said a preliminary analysis of that study suggests there is no link between having a seasonal flu shot and developing a severe case of pandemic flu.
And a recent report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal questioned whether hand washing - one of the Public Health Agency's main flu-fighting measures - actually prevents transmission of influenza viruses.
There are also concerns about adjuvants in the vaccine, which are compounds that boost the immune system's response to vaccine, allowing for smaller doses.
Until now there had been no licensed flu vaccine containing adjuvant in Canada, although adjuvants have been used for years in Europe in flu vaccines targeted at seniors.
There are no data on the use of so-called adjuvanted flu vaccine in pregnant women, which may add to the already high degree of reluctance many pregnant women feel about taking any medication or therapy.
There is also little data on the safety of the additives in vaccines given to children.
Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline has a contract to produce 50.4 million doses of pandemic vaccine with adjuvants at its facility in Ste-Foy, Que.
Though it had first said it would only buy adjuvanted vaccine, the federal government later ordered 1.8 million doses of vaccine that does not contain adjuvants for pregnant women and young children. But the doses shipped this week contain adjuvants.
Aglukkaq has said the unadjuvanted vaccine is expected to be ready by early next month.
Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. David Butler-Jones, has acknowledged the difficulties in convincing Canadians the new vaccine is safe amid all the confusion surrounding it.
"For the public, what they hear is nobody seems to know what they're talking about," he said.
"Because on one hand you have Dr. Butler-Jones saying this, and then you have someone else say that, and it's all bunch of things. ...
"So it's not an easy task. But the more we can do to try and get the story right collectively I think the better as we move forward."