ONT Officials Accused of FluMongering
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|Thu, 12-17-2009 - 2:39am|
December 11, 2009
Public health officials are misleading Canadians by continuing to characterize the H1N1 virus as a threat in the hopes of unloading millions of doses of unused vaccine, charges Ontario's former chief medical officer of health.
They are trying to save face because of an expensive overreaction, Dr. Richard Schabas said Thursday as lineups for the vaccine continued to dwindle.
He made his comments the day after the Public Health Agency of Canada unveiled a new advertising campaign aimed at encouraging Canadians to get vaccinated.
"Spending Christmas in bed or in an ICU unit is no fun and the only way to actually avoid that is for a large number of Canadians to be immunized," agency head Dr. David Butler-Jones told a teleconference.
He also said discussions are underway with the World Health Organization on what to do with the surplus vaccine.
Schabas, who is medical officer of health for Hastings and Prince Edward Counties, estimates that 35 million of the 50.4 million doses of vaccine that Canada has ordered, at a cost of more than $400 million, will not be used.
"They bought 50 million doses of vaccine and it's an embarrassment to them that it's not being used," he said, adding that it became available too late.
"I think if you are going to make that push, you at least need to tell people that the outbreak is essentially over and you have to say to people any future risk of H1N1, at least this year, is extremely small. ... You shouldn't mislead people." Schabas said.
The number of Canadians visiting doctors with flu-like symptoms peaked in late October, he noted.
"The real story is the disconnect between what the senior public health officials, provincially and nationally, have been saying to people and what's actually been going on," Schabas argued. "They have been misrepresenting the state of the outbreak and the level of risk."
Schabas said health officials have been preparing for years for a deadly avian flu pandemic and have had trouble switching gears to respond the mild H1N1 pandemic.
He added, people aren't buying into the fear as is evidenced by closing flu clinics. Toronto's eight remaining clinics were all to close Sunday but three of them shut their doors earlier this week because of little traffic.
While government officials now acknowledge the pandemic has turned out to be not as bad as initially feared, Schabas said they have been slow to adjust their responses.
"I think they got their knickers in a knot because they responded to their preconceptions. There was a preconception that a pandemic was going to be a terrible event," he said.
Ontario's 600-plus-page pandemic plan, like pandemic plans around the world, is modelled on a "moderately severe" pandemic with assumptions based on the 1957 flu pandemic. It anticipated 13,000 could die and up to 54,000 could require hospitalization.
The latest provincial numbers show 104 H1N1-related deaths and 1,656 hospitalizations so far.