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Last Updated

05 Feb 2003

Source: The Toronto Star, February 5, 2003

Canada to stock smallpox vaccine

Enough ordered for everyone


WINNIPEG—Health Canada plans to stockpile enough smallpox vaccine to vaccinate everyone in the country in the event of a terrorist attack, a senior official said yesterday.

Even though the risk of such a smallpox attack is considered low, the department is already close to concluding a deal announced late last year for an additional 10 million doses of vaccine.

Dr. Ron St. John said it was also decided that enough vaccine for the entire population will be stockpiled under the containment strategy he and provincial officials discussed this week at a two-day meeting.

"If you use the vaccine in roughly the first four days after the person is exposed, you can prevent them from getting the disease, so you have a window of response," said St. John, director general of Health Canada's Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response.

"By vaccinating those people who are potentially exposed, you set up a ring of immunity around the case," he said.

"That ring could expand to include the neighbourhood, it could expand to include a community, it could expand to include a province or it could expand to include the whole country.

"What we call the surge capacity is to have enough in case, just in the unlikely event we have to vaccinate the entire country."

The 10 million doses should be in the hands of health officials by year end.

St. John couldn't say how much longer it might take to add enough for the rest of the population, about another 21 million people.

He said the price is still being negotiated but smallpox is not an expensive vaccine.

There are no plans to vaccinate the general population as a precaution, only to keep vaccine in storage in case of an attack.

Canada currently has a stockpile capable of protecting between two million and three million people.