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H1N1 Vaccine Program Cost Pegged At $500 Million

That swine flu shot isn’t coming cheap.

More details of the total price tag of the pandemic vaccine program emerged Wednesday. They show the cost is heading towards $500 million – and all the bills aren’t tallied yet.

In addition to the previously announced $403 million for the vaccine, Ottawa will spend another $78 million on related costs incurred by Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The figure was included in the 2009-10 supplementary budget estimates tabled Wednesday by Treasury Board President Vic Toews.

That $78 million will cover the cost of developing emergency and strategic plans, surveillance and outbreak management, communications, overtime and standby pay for regulatory and lab staff, and planning ahead and rapid research.

Related provincial costs were not provided but are sure to cost millions of dollars more.

The federal government is picking up 60 per cent of the tab for 50.4 million doses of the vaccine, while the provinces and territories will pay for the remaining 40 per cent.

Then there’s the cost of the government’s H1N1 awareness campaign. The Public Health Agency figures its radio, television, online and print ads carry a $4.5-million price tag.

Now into its second week, Canada’s largest-ever mass vaccination effort has been plagued by long lineups at overcrowded clinics, a vaccine shortage, and widespread confusion and frustration.

Supply of the vaccine stalled last week after GlaxoSmithKline switched from making the adjuvanted version of the vaccine – which contains a booster compound – to making special unadjuvanted batches for pregnant women.

The changeover apparently slowed production of the vaccine more than the drug maker had expected.
At least one province – Alberta – ran out of the vaccine and had to temporarily close clinics this week, and other provinces are warning of dwindling supplies.

Health officials have appealed to lower-risk Canadians to wait a little longer for the vaccine, at least until those who are most vulnerable get their shots.