Canada gives WHO 5 million doses of H1N1 vaccine

TORONTO — Canada has revealed what it will do with a portion of the country's large H1N1 vaccine surplus, announcing Jan. 28 that it is giving 5 million doses to the World Health Organization.

Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said Canada would also give the global health agency $6 million to support its pandemic relief efforts.

"We are fortunate to be in a position to contribute H1N1 flu vaccine to the WHO to help developing countries now that we have met Canada's immediate needs," Aglukkaq said in a statement.

The statement did not disclose what Canada would do with the remainder of the surplus, which could be in the range of 25 million to 30 million doses if domestic demand does not increase.

But a government spokesperson told The Canadian Press that many options are being explored.

Those include making an additional donation to the WHO, donating directly to a country or countries or possibly selling some of the excess doses. In addition, the government is looking into whether some of the vaccine might be turned back to manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline, said the spokesperson, who asked not to be named.

Canada will hold on to a portion of the excess, though how many doses will be retained is still under discussion with the provinces and territories, the spokesperson said.

It has been clear for months Canada would have a large vaccine surplus.

Demand has plummeted since mid to late December, a reflection of the fact that there is little H1N1 activity anywhere in the country. The second wave of H1N1 activity in Canada peaked in November.

The WHO said Jan. 28 that 200 million doses of H1N1 vaccine have been committed to its vaccine redistribution effort. Of that, 94 million doses are currently available to be sent to recipient countries once they have met all the requirements for receiving vaccine. The rest of the doses are still in production.

The lion's share of the donated vaccine comes from manufacturers Sanofi Pasteur, GSK and Australian vaccine maker CSL.

But 17 countries have made contributions. They are: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Slovenia, South Korea, Switzerland, Thailand and the United States.

Despite the fact that the WHO had hoped to start distributing donated vaccine in late November, so far only two recipient countries, Azerbaijan and Mongolia, have received deliveries of the vaccine. Those shipments were made earlier this month.

The delay is in part due to the fact that the vaccine took longer to produce than had been anticipated. And mounting the redistribution program — which involves making sure recipient countries have a workable plan for deploying vaccine once they get it — has proved to be more time consuming than the WHO had expected.