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Unadjuvanted H1N1 vaccine arrives in Nunavut

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  • Unadjuvanted H1N1 vaccine arrives in Nunavut

    Nunavut?s supply of unadjuvanted H1N1 flu vaccine arrived in the territory this week, meaning public health officials can now begin to immunize pregnant women.

    Isaac Sobol, Nunavut?s chief medical officer of health, told Nunatsiaq News Monday that 600 doses of unadjuvanted swine flu vaccine were to arrive Tuesday at Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay.

    That?s important for Nunavut?s expectant mothers because it clears the way for them to get the flu shot too. Federal guidelines suggest that pregnant women should get the unadjuvanted vaccine, because there?s been no research on how the adjuvant affects them.

    ?There?s no reason to think that the adjuvanted vaccine is actually going to be dangerous for pregnant women,? Sobol said. And in fact, those same guidelines suggest that women pregnant 20 weeks or more who live in areas with active swine flu outbreaks should simply get the adjuvanted vaccine.

    Nunavut hasn?t seen any confirmed cases of H1N1 since the second wave of the pandemic began this fall. But Sobol said the vaccination teams now fanning our across the territory wouldn?t refuse a woman who?s 20-plus weeks pregnant, or who has an underlying health problem, who wants the adjuvanted vaccine.

    But he said there are no plans to offer unadjuvanted shots to anyone besides expectant mothers. That includes children.

    ?They [children] are more at risk of getting sick from H1N1 if they receive the unadjuvanted [vaccine] because they don?t respond nearly so well to that,? Sobol said.
    An adjuvant is a substance added to vaccines to boost the body?s immune response, and as a result, protection against disease. The adjuvant for the H1N1 vaccine is called AS03 and is a mix of vitamin E, water and squalene, an oil derived from shark livers.
    Adjuvants are common in many vaccines, and have been used in flu vaccines in Europe for years, though not before in Canada. Health officials say one reason for using an adjuvanted version of Pandemrix, the swine flu vaccine, is to help make the supply go farther.
    According to data provided by GlaxoSmithKline, the vaccine?s manufacturer, the adjuvanted vaccine doubled the number of children who reached a ?regulatory threshold? of immunity to 100 per cent. The figures come from a small clinical trial of 200 Spanish children.
    In fact, Sobol said the adjuvanted vaccine has proven so potent that children under 10 may not even have to go back for a second half-dose three weeks after the first shot, as Nunavut health officials originally planned.
    ?What we?ve been telling parents of kids is to stay tuned about the second dose,? he said. ?At the moment, we think kids will need a second dose, but there is a possibility that they won?t.?
    Should that prove true, Sobol said Nunavut will be able to stretch its supply of 22,000 vaccine doses enough to immunize everyone in the territory.
    But there?s still some uneasiness about the adjuvanted vaccine. One reason is that it contains 10 times as much mercury as the unadjuvanted version, according to information from the Public Health Agency of Canada. But there?s less mercury in a can of tuna, health officials say, and the type of mercury used, thimerosal, is different than the type of mercury known to make people sick.
    Sobol said resistance to the swine flu vaccine has died down since the second wave of the outbreak hit southern Canada, closing schools and killing at least six people since Oct. 27.
    On Monday, the Canadian Press reported that production of the adjuvanted version of the vaccine dropped by more than half as GlaxoSmithKline switched its Canadian plant over to producing shots of the unadjuvanted vaccine.
    Some provinces have delayed or shut down vaccination clinics altogether as demand for the shot outstripped supply.