Credits: LUKE HENDRY/QMI AGENCY
OTTAWA — Health Canada officials are still urging Canadians to get their flu shot despite suspending two vaccines widely used across the country.
The federal agency pulled Agriflu and Fluad, manufactured in Italy by Novartis, after several European countries halted their use due to concerns over white floating material seen clumping inside.
The health agency said it has "rigourously reviewed" the two vaccines — which account for some 20% of Canada's supply — before authorizing them for use in Canada.
It also said clumping of the kind seen in Europe is common in vaccines.
But as a precaution, the agency said it has asked the drug maker to stop distributing the vaccines in Canada until a full review can be completed and recommended that health-care professionals stop using them in the meantime.
There have been no reports of serious or adverse affects with the vaccine, health officials said.
Paul Gully, a senior medical advisor with Health Canada, said Saturday the agency hopes to have cleared the vaccines for use by early next week to avoid too much disruption when it comes to Canadians having access to a flu shot.
On Friday, following Health Canada's announcement, Saskatchewan temporarily shut its public flu shot clinics because most of its stock is from Novartis.
P.E.I. and New Brunswick also almost exclusively depend on Fluad and Agriflu.
Gully said chief medical officers across Canada are looking at how long the suspension may last and how provinces can work together to fill supply gaps across jurisdictions in the case of a long interruption.
“Some provinces use 100% Novartis, some provinces use 80%, some provinces use 60%, and that's the challenge,” Gully said, noting that the problem came to light as the flu vaccination season was ramping up, leaving provinces with little flexibility in their supplies.
In Ottawa, people lining up at the Holy Trinity Catholic High School for a shot were brushing off news of the two vaccine suspensions.
Among them was Penny Horeczy, who has faithfully gotten flu shots every season for more than a decade.
"It's a matter of numbers. I believe it strengthens my immune system," said Horeczy post-shot, who wasn't worried about the vaccine suspensions. "Everyone else has been sick and I've been able to avoid it. In this economy, who can afford to miss work?"
-- with files from Danielle Bell