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H1N1 influenza vaccine running low in B.C.

British Columbia provincial health officer Perry Kendall says flu vaccines are purchased in advance of the flu season, based on estimates.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The British Columbia Centre for Disease Control is nearing the end of its supply of H1N1 flu vaccines, meaning anyone wanting to get vaccinated should do so soon or face having to hunt for one.

Although the province ordered a record 1.4 million vaccines this year, the demand driven by the relatively severe influenza strain is chewing through the province's stock, said Dr. Monika Naus, medical director of immunization services at the CDC.

"We don't have much left," Dr. Naus said. "There's undoubtedly still vaccines out there…but people are going to have to call around to find it."

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Dr. Naus said supplies vary across the province, but the current amount of vaccines at doctors' offices and pharmacies are not tracked.

Vaccines are specific to the seasonal strain of the flu, so this vaccine will not offer protection against the H5N1 avian flu strain that killed one Edmonton resident this week. However, Dr. Naus says Canadians should not be worried about that virus.

"That would have required their infection overseas," she said. "This strain has not shown to be transmissible person-to-person except in household transmission."

At a news conference Wednesday related to the deadly case of H5N1 in Edmonton, provincial health officer Perry Kendall explained flu vaccines are purchased in advance of the flu season. That means numbers have to be estimated each year. This year's supply was 10 per cent more than last year.

"A vaccine isn't like turning on the tap and getting endlessly supplied," he said. "We buy what we anticipate we can use at the beginning of every year. At some point, you use up what you bought."

Last year, Dr. Kendall said 90,000 doses were returned to provincial health authorities, an estimated $500,000 worth of unusable vaccines.

Flu season has not yet peaked, and generally runs through March and into April.

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