Canada's H1N1 vaccine campaign costs over $1.5 billion so far

Posted Nov 12, 2009 by Stephanie Dearing
The flu season has only just begun but already Health Canada has spent upwards of $1.5 billion to pay for the vaccination program and the public campaign urging people to get immunized.
Leona Aglukkaq  Canadian Minister of Health
Leona Aglukkaq, Canadian Minister of Health
Health Canada
Just last week, Health Canada, through the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, predicted that Canada's H1N1 campaign would cost well under $1 billion. According to estimates, the vaccine itself would cost $400 million while the ad campaigns urging people to get immunized would cost $4.5 million. Parliament has to approve the estimates. The Globe & Mail did some investigation into the spending and found that Health Canada has spent at least $1.5 billion on the H1N1 campaign so far, and those costs are only expected to increase. The expenses uncovered by the Globe are double the estimates tabled last week by the Treasury Board Secretariat.
Only 20% of Canadians have been vaccinated so far. Two weeks into the vaccinations, the program rollout has been far from smooth. The whopping expenses for the H1N1 campaign combined with vaccine shortages; poor communication from Health Canada; people using their privilege to jump ahead of identified priority groups to get vaccines; and people's belief that the danger from the virus is exaggerated spells trouble for the governing Conservative Party of Canada.
Having a Canadian health official proclaiming the pandemic a "dud" means the Conservative Party can expect some grief over the costs of the pandemic campaign, as well as its handling of the pandemic. Referreing to the virus, Dr. Richard Schabas told the CBC It's really not causing — and is not going to cause and nowhere has caused — significant levels of illness or death. But governments moved ahead regardless. They ramped up their response, spent a huge amount of money on vaccines and other things. I'm not sure the $1.5 billion includes the cost of new ventilators, the cost of Tamiflu stockpiles … the huge investment that's been put into planning for what has ultimately turned out to be, from a pandemic perspective, a dud." Schabas once held Ontario's key health role for a ten year period in the past when he held the position of Chief Medical Officer of Health.
The costs for the campaign are higher than anticipated partly because the costs associated with purchasing and delivering the vaccine had almost doubled from $16 per dose to the $30 per dose it now costs. According to the Globe, it is possible that those costs could increase.
Health Officials are keeping mum about the actual dollar costs of the campaign, but say that the costs are justified, because productivity will not decrease. Given that there have been 161 deaths attributed to the virus since November 10th, 2009 with British Columbia reporting a continuance in the surge of influenza cases in the province, this argument may already be negated. British Columbia has reported 202 people hospitalizations due to H1N1 since November 10, 2009.
An International Swine Flu Conference is scheduled to take place in Toronto, Ontario over November 23 - 24.