Fact sheet: H1N1 Vaccine

MONTREAL (CUP) – Health Canada approved the H1N1 vaccine earlier this month, and is administration is slowly underway. Because the shots are being administered by the provincial health authorities, how quickly members of the public can get the vaccine varies from province to province.

While Health Canada has said the vaccine is safe, a large number of Canadians say they’re wary of getting the shot. According to a Strategic Counsel survey, released last week, 51 per cent of Canadians said they’re not planning to get the vaccine. The Canadian University Press talked with officials from Health Canada and the vaccine maker, GlaxoSmithKline to get some answers for some common questions about the new vaccine.

What kind of testing has been done?

GlaxoSmithKline says that they’re going to be testing the vaccine on a little fewer than 9,000 people worldwide; 2,000 of those people will be Canadians. The Canadian tests began two weeks ago and it could take up to a year for the results. This means that Health Canada’s going to be reviewing early European tests done on a small number of individuals.

How are vaccines approved in Canada?

It’s mostly a review process. Health Canada looks at the results of clinical trials, where the vaccine is actually given to people; those tests are conducted by pharmaceutical companies. Health Canada also inspects their manufacturing plants and tests a small amount of the vaccine, but as a quality control measure, the government doesn’t do any clinical trials.

How is the vaccine made?

The vaccine is produced in a similar way to the seasonal flu vaccine. Pharmaceutical companies get an inactive form of the virus from the World Health Organization. They then grow the virus in eggs.

How did they make the vaccine so fast?

The seasonal flu tends to mutate from year to year; scientists call this mutation “drifting.” Because of this, a new seasonal flu vaccine is required each year. While it may seem like the new vaccine was developed very quickly, it’s not much faster than the response to a new strain of seasonal flu.

So what’s in this vaccine?

It contains an inactive form of the virus. The type of vaccine that will be more available in Canada also contains an “adjuvant,” which is designed to stimulate the immune system; it contains fish oil, vitamin E and water. The vaccine also contains a small amount of mercury as a preservative, but Health Canada says there’s less mercury in a dose of the vaccine than in a can of tuna.

Why is the H1N1 strain more serious than other types of flu?

Because the changes in the virus caused by the mutations aren’t that significant most people tend to have some level of natural immunity. But because humans have never had the H1N1 strain before, most of us wont have any of these antibodies.

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