Hon. Carolyn Bennett (St. Paul's, Lib.)
|| That this House do now adjourn.
She said: Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore, and I want to thank all of the Speakers for granting this important debate.
This past weekend I was inundated with calls and emails from MPs, asking questions and describing the situation on the ground in their ridings. I think it is important that tonight we get to tell those stories and call on the government to respond to this crisis.
Peter Newman has said that politics in Canada is the art of making the necessary possible. Determining what is necessary and fighting for it is political. In public health there is a role for politicians of all political stripes to fight for the necessary resources to protect the health and safety of Canadians, and ensure that the priorities of the government of the day are in line with the needs of Canadians. This is not partisan, but it is political.
When the minister stated that there was no pandemic plan before the Conservative government took office, that is partisan. Canada has had a pandemic preparedness plan since 1988. In 2003 we learned the lessons of SARS, and quickly put in place a response to David Naylor's report: collaboration, cooperation, communication and clarity of who does what, when. We put in place the Public Health Agency of Canada, appointed Dr. David Butler-Jones as the first Chief Public Health Officer for Canada, and established the public health network for Canada where all 13 jurisdictions would be able to plan together with the federal government for the public health of all Canadians.
Canada's pandemic plan was one of the best in the world. The plan ensured a supply of vaccines for all Canadians and adequate stockpiles of Tamiflu. These were good planning decisions. Our criticism is not with the plan, but with the failure to adapt the plan quickly to respond to this new, novel virus, and the execution of the response to the pandemic itself.
In the 2004 budget we put in place a trust fund of $100 million for the provinces to build the capacity for front line public health. In 2007 the Conservative government cancelled that fund. The 2006 budget booked $400 million for pandemic response. We now find out that the government put the reserve fund into five annual packages of $80 million, and each year without a pandemic, the money has disappeared.
The Minister of Health has continued to state that she is working with the provinces and territories, yet she unilaterally decided that the provinces and territories would pay for 40% of the costs of the vaccine and for all of the costs of the administration of the vaccination program.
The provinces and territories have been asking for help. The government has refused to listen. All summer we have been seeking assurance that there were in place the resources and the capacity on the ground to get the 50.4 million doses of vaccines that had been ordered into the arms of Canadians.
There seems to be some confusion between the role of the Minister of Health and the role of the Chief Public Health Officer for Canada. The Chief Public Health Officer for Canada has the responsibility to find a consensus with his counterparts on the science and then give the best possible advice to Canadians. Canadians needed clear and unambiguous messages. Instead, there were too many opinions and conflicting guidelines, and the resulting dangerous confusion. His job is also to give the best possible advice to the Minister of Health, including his assessment of the need for additional resources for communication and/or improving front line public health capacity.
The Minister of Health has the responsibility to act on his advice, listen to her provincial and territorial counterparts, and then go to cabinet and make her case to be able to deliver what is needed to protect the health and safety of Canadians. Wrapping itself in some constitutional cocoon is a dangerous approach for the federal government.
There is a difference between health and health care delivery. In 2003 David Naylor's report on the lessons learned from SARS quoted Disraeli: “the care of public health is the first duty of the statesman”. It is time for the minister to do her job and help her minister of health colleagues across the country. so that their public health authorities can deal with this health emergency now. It is time for statesmanship, not time for an ideologically-based mantra of “not a federal responsibility”. She is Canada's Minister of Health.
The lack of an effective national communication plan has meant that doctors and nurses administering the vaccines are spending time answering questions that could and should have been answered all summer.
As information changes, the federal government has a responsibility to spend the dollars necessary to ensure that Canadians truly understand the facts and what is expected of them. The public education campaigns from the NHS in the U.K. or the CDC in the U.S. demonstrate what a proper public education campaign should look like, especially the effectiveness of the campaign targeted to children, which is totally missing in Canada.
Last weekend it was the father of a child who had died from H1N1 who explained that shortness of breath was not a normal symptom of influenza. He said he wished he had known that earlier.
Since June, the doctors in Manitoba have been recommending a public awareness campaign to make sure that every Canadian with influenza who is experiencing shortness of breath would immediately seek medical attention. They were worried that the morbidity and mortality of patients they had seen in Winnipeg could have been dramatically reduced if they had presented to hospital earlier.
Two weeks ago, we asked a number of local medical officers of health across the country if they felt ready for the vaccine rollout. They had been given no certainty of the quantity or the starting date of the supply.
They described a total absence of sensitivity of the operational realities, the logistics of storage and security, let alone setting up clinics with so little notice. They described a total absence of central leadership, a lack of clarity and no commitment to the additional resources that would be necessary.
They insisted that the front lines had to know what to expect and what not to expect. They had no idea of the costs and no idea of what would be reimbursed. They were worried that the demonstration projects had not been built and that no money had arrived on the front lines. Medical officers of health were being asked to go to their local boards of health or regional health authorities and municipal councils handcuffed by the lack of information.
This summer when we drew attention to the lack of planning and resources for aboriginal communities, the minister was telling us that 90% of the communities were prepared while the grand chiefs and our personal experience were telling us something quite different. The unfortunate body bag incident followed a lack of response to the ongoing criticisms by the first nations community of the local regional office of Health Canada. The government responded well by appointing the respected Dr. Paul Gully to First Nations and Inuit Health and things have improved.
There are many questions that will have to be answered later. Having only one production line in one company available for all the vaccines needed for Canadians has clearly caused delays. Priority must be to have the shortest possible gap between the arrival of a pandemic and the time when a significant percentage of the population has been immunized.
I cannot believe that any MP on any side of the House could look at the lineups in his or her riding and be able to say that this response to the pandemic is being executed properly or blame some other jurisdiction. We need to redouble our efforts as politicians to immediately secure the resources necessary to help local public health units get on with the vaccination campaign, additional funds for school-based campaigns, and hire back retired nurses.
We need to ensure, as soon as we have the promised three million vaccines, that we get them into the arms of Canadians as quickly as possible. We also need to ensure that hospitals and family doctors in our areas are confident that they have the resources necessary to look after Canadians who do get sick.
In a visit to B.C. Women's Hospital on Friday, I was truly impressed. Its patients are all immunized and it certainly seems ready.
It is indeed a fine line between our due diligence in holding the government to account and partisan grandstanding. We believe that the government has a huge role to play in the response to this pandemic. We will do our job and we want the government to do its job.
Mr. Michael Ignatieff (Leader of the Opposition, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I want to thank the Chair for allowing this debate, because it reflects the national urgency of this issue. I also thank the hon. member for St. Paul's for her remarkable work on these issues.
This debate is not simply about an epidemic; it is a debate about the proper role and function of government. The role of government is to prepare citizens, to lead citizens and to inform them. In all three dimensions, the government has failed in its duties. I will begin with the government's failure to prepare.
The H1N1 flu first appeared on April 23, in Mexico. On April 27, I asked the first question in the House, namely: where was the government's plan to meet this challenge? But there has not been any plan since then.
The Conservatives waited before ordering vaccines. The United States ordered vaccines on May 25. France did so on July 16. But the Conservative government waited until August 6. That delay is critical. It shows a lack of leadership and a blatant lack of preparation. Thirty-five countries ordered their vaccines before Canada did.
The Conservatives began vaccination later than other countries. China, Australia, the United States, Sweden, Japan, the United Kingdom, all began vaccinations before our country did. Canada did not begin vaccinations until October 26. The U.S. began administering the vaccine on October 5, before Canadian trials had even begun.
Two weeks ago, the Minister of Health said the vaccine would be available to all Canadians in early November, and now she says it will not be available until Christmas. We have discovered that there is not an adequate supply for next week.
The Conservatives did not order non-adjuvanted vaccine for pregnant women until it was too late, and they provided extremely confusing advice at all times.
This failure to properly inform the public has become a source of enormous anxiety to Canadian families. They do not know what public information to believe. This is producing anguish in families that is the direct responsibility of the government.
Earlier, I referred to a lack of preparation, but there was also a lack of leadership. The provinces and territories asked the federal government for additional resources. Four hundred million dollars were allocated in the 2006 budget—which amounts to $80 million annually—to help the provinces and municipalities face this challenge. So far, there has been no reply and no cooperation on the part of the government.
Finally, I want to mention a simple reality: epidemics do not care about jurisdictions, about territories. The municipal, provincial and federal levels of government must work in a spirit of consultation and consensus building, and it is the federal government's responsibility to develop a national plan so that all stakeholders can be interconnected. This is what is lacking in the government's approach.
Instead of taking responsibility, the government blames everybody else. The government blames the drug company because there is not enough supply for next week. The government blames the provinces and territories. “We do not deliver health care,” the government says. We understand that, but the role of a national government is to provide the planning framework in which everybody does his or her job, because as I said, epidemics do not care about jurisdictions. What the national government is there to do is to bring people together. The government has failed to do that consistently since the beginning of the crisis.
The question now is when will the government own up and take responsibility? When will the Prime Minister begin to exercise the leadership that is his responsibility here? Why does he refuse to lead? Why does the entire government shift responsibility to the drug companies, to the provinces, to the municipalities, anybody it can instead of standing up and doing what the Government of Canada ought to be doing?
Finally, there is the failure to inform, the failure to prepare, the failure to lead. This is a government that has spent something like 10 times more on its own publicity, publicizing its own highly partisan infrastructure program than it has spent on public health information. This is the most astonishing failure of all of the government's failures. Clean, clear public information that everybody can understand is the right of every Canadian citizen. We could have avoided the anguish in all the Canadian households had the government done its job. It failed to do so.
Ultimately, this is not just about an epidemic; this is about the proper role of government in our society, the proper role of a federal government. The government has failed to do its job, which is why we are having this debate tonight.
Hon. Leona Aglukkaq (Minister of Health, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I am always pleased to provide the House with an update on the efforts of health portfolios to respond to the H1N1 flu virus outbreak. The reason for that is I am very proud of and stand behind all of our efforts to date, especially considering H1N1 is a novel virus. It is not something we have encountered before.
This new form of influenza is causing sickness and death in demographic groups that are usually most resistant to seasonal viruses and other disease outbreaks. For the first time in a long time, we are seeing school-aged children, youth and working-age adults hit hardest by this virus. More often it is the very young and very old who are most at risk of severe cases of the flu. With seasonal flu, over 90% of deaths and about 60% of hospitalizations occur in people older than 65. I would like to focus today on the facts about our response.
In April we received a report of these illnesses from Mexico. Our international reputation is such that when Mexican officials realized they had a problem, they called Canada first. We indicated that we would be happy to assist and immediately began doing so. We also began working immediately with the World Health Organization and our international and Canadian partners to respond quickly to this developing situation.
Since that day, the Government of Canada's actions have been unprecedented and we continue to demonstrate the leadership that Canadians, governments, health professionals and organizations are looking for during an outbreak. Let me provide just a few examples.
This is a very unique, new virus that could not be identified by a traditional method. However, the Public Health Agency's National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg is an international leader in infectious disease diagnostics and research. Our lab had processes in place to identify emerging pathogens along with cutting edge technology that not all labs have.
Once we received specimens from Mexico, we got to work right away. Our National Microbiology Laboratory had test results within 24 hours. We mapped the genetic code of the Canadian and Mexican flu viruses, the first time that was done in the world.
The scientific excellence and leadership has been the hallmark of our response to the H1N1 influenza virus outbreak.
On the epidemiological side, we implemented heightened surveillance through FluWatch and began providing support to affected areas, including first nations and Inuit communities.
We began holding regular media briefings. In fact, since the spring, I have held over 41 media briefings. This is unprecedented and it is consistent with our commitment to keep Canadians informed as part of the pandemic plan. In addition, the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada and myself have conducted hundreds of media interviews.
The 1 800 O Canada information line has received calls requesting over 300,000 copies of the government's H1N1 preparedness guide and almost 50,000 of the guides have been downloaded from the Public Health Agency website. Radio and television ads are airing nationally, focusing on personal preparedness and vaccine information in the weeks to come. We will continue to roll out our multimedia, multi-phased citizen readiness marketing campaign.
In order to ensure that my colleagues on the other side of the House are kept up to date, we have provided over 40 briefings for opposition members of Parliament.
Last summer, after consultation with the provinces, territories and international partners and suppliers, we purchased enough doses of the H1N1 vaccine for every Canadian who needed and wanted it. In addition, we have ensured that pregnant women have access to unadjuvanted vaccine, following the advice of the World Health Organization.
The rollout was planned for early November, however, because of the hard work of many people in my department, who have been working 24/7, we were able to announce, on October 21, the authorization of the adjuvanted H1N1 vaccine. This means that provinces and territories were able to begin last week, on October 26, the largest vaccination campaign in our country's history. To date, six million doses of adjuvanted H1N1 vaccine have been delivered to the provinces and territories. That is currently more H1N1 vaccine per capita than any other country in the world.
We have sufficient vaccines for high-risk populations that need it. Many more Canadians will continue to get their shots over the coming weeks as more vaccine becomes available. Let me make one point very clear. There is not a shortage of vaccine. Every Canadian will be able to have the vaccine by Christmas.
There has been a tremendous uptake since the campaign began. We are encouraged by the fact that Canadians see the importance of being vaccinated against this pandemic flu. Provinces and territories are reporting many thousands of Canadians getting their shots. Right now, jurisdictions are giving more vaccine per day than they have ever given in history. There will be enough H1N1 vaccine available in Canada for everyone who needs and wants to be immunized. Not a single person will be left out.
Because we know that it would be impossible to vaccinate everyone in the country at one time, the Government of Canada, in co-operation with the provinces and territories, jointly determined sequencing guidelines for the distribution of the H1N1 flu vaccine. It is important for these guidelines to be implemented and respected. That is why we have started distributing the vaccine ahead of schedule so health care workers and Canadians at high risk of severe complications could be first in line to receive the vaccine.
In addition, I would like to remind colleagues that the northern isolated communities of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories have received their entire allotment of adjuvanted vaccine and will be able to have their populations vaccinated within two weeks.
Our goal is to have vaccinated every Canadian who needs and wants it by Christmas. This will be an incredible help to us in the fight against the spread of H1N1.
However, in broad terms, all of this is just the beginning. The flu season in Canada traditionally lasts until April. I know my colleagues, the parliamentary secretary to myself and members of Parliament will provide more details on our response so far, but I will also say that all of these efforts are a testament to the planning and to the strengthened systems we have nurtured over the past few years. Our response to the H1N1 flu virus began as soon as we were informed.
As the House knows, the World Health Organization officially declared an H1N1 pandemic in June. What is different this time around relative to previous pandemics is that we are better prepared than we have ever been before.
The reason is the Government of Canada is working from a strong framework, the Canadian pandemic influenza plan. It is a plan built on years of collaboration with provinces, territories and the medical community. Its goals are to minimize serious illness and overall deaths and to minimize social disruption among Canadians as a result of an influenza pandemic. That plan is constantly being fine-tuned. We are continuing to work on all the recommended preparedness activities and outstanding issues it outlines.
To help in rolling out pandemic plans and response, we continue to develop and update guidance documents for such concerns as clinical care for pregnant women. In fact, just last week, we released three new sets of guidelines. We released guidelines on how Canadians can reduce the spread of H1N1 flu virus while they are traveling. These guidelines help clarify how passengers, crews, travel agencies and operators can help reduce the spread of infection on planes, trains, ferries and buses.
We also issued guidance to assist those in remote and isolated communities, homes to some of our most vulnerable population. Our guidance on clinical management of patients with influenza-like illnesses will help doctors, nurses and other health care providers provide the care that residents in remote and isolated communities need.
The third guidance document will assist remote and isolated communities across Canada develop a plan for mass immunization. This is critical because health care services in many remote and isolated communities are carried out in small to medium-sized nursing stations and health centres by a small number of staff.
Because of the unique health challenges that remote and isolated communities face, we will be issuing several more guidance documents over the coming weeks to ensure that those who live far from the large urban centres in southern Canada receive the health care services they need to stay healthy.
Other supporting documents are being updated based on more recent data and experience we have seen during the influenza outbreak. This has laid the foundation for us. It is the strongest example possible of the spirit of collaboration.
Since the outset I have stressed the importance of collaboration in every action taken to manage the outbreak on behalf of Canadians. Our response has been supported by systematic ongoing contact with the World Health Organization and other international partners.
Within our borders we have made a concerted, coordinated effort to share information and lessons learned with our provincial and territorial counterparts. Experts and decision-makers from all jurisdictions from the entire spectrum of public health management have come together to ensure an appropriate and timely response to the outbreak.
From day one we have been working with first nations leaders and provinces. We are working to ensure that communities have everything they need in a timely manner based on the best public health advice, and of course we are committed to making sure first nations have the support they need to protect their communities.
As we move forward we are increasing efforts to make sure H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccines get to those Canadians who need and want them the most. I am confident that the actions taken so far along with our continued efforts this fall and winter will continue to serve Canadians well. While the course of this pandemic may have been unexpected, we have demonstrated our ability to adapt quickly and effectively to rapidly changing events.
On October 29, we learned from our supplier GSK that the quantity of vaccine to be shipped to the provinces and territories would be, for the short term, much lower than expected. While we had known before that there might be less vaccine available, we had no idea until then the extent of the shortfall. When I found out and when we found out, we advised the provinces and territories immediately.
The temporary reduction in supply was caused by the fact that GSK can produce only one type of vaccine, adjuvanted or non-adjuvanted, at a time. It needed to shut down production of adjuvanted vaccine in order to comply with its commitment to producing non-adjuvanted vaccine for pregnant women.
This temporary shutdown combined with the earlier-than-expected authorization and roll-out of the vaccine caused the reduction we are now seeing. However, GSK assures us that it will be back up to providing the provinces and territories with millions of doses over the coming weeks. We are in constant contact with GSK on its production schedule. We have begun posting information on the expected supply on our website and sharing this information with the provinces and territories.
We are dealing with a very new disease and we have been working and will continue to work as quickly as possible given these circumstances. This government's planning efforts have paid off. No matter what else comes our way, we are well prepared. We plan to continue regular media briefings and get information out to Canadians quickly and effectively through advertising and otherwise.
We are committed to ongoing collaboration, transparency and communication. These are the tools that will help us prevent the spread of H1N1 and manage the outbreak and get us through this pandemic.
Mr. Luc Malo (Verchères—Les Patriotes, BQ):
Madam Speaker, like my colleagues, I am pleased to participate in this emergency debate on the second wave of the H1N1 pandemic.
It goes without saying that there is an urgent need for this debate, since in Quebec and in all the provinces of Canada, we are seeing lines of people waiting to be vaccinated but unable to get the vaccine.
I heard the minister and the government members accusing the opposition of playing politics with this debate. I can understand some of the government's criticisms of the Liberal Party, because, unfortunately, the Liberals used a 10 percenter to send a document to aboriginal communities, resurrecting the body bag issue, when the communities had already accepted the government's apologies. However, I do not appreciate having the minister associate me and my party with this or having her accuse us of simply trying to take advantage of the situation.
Throughout consideration of this issue, ever since the WHO declared the pandemic a level six on June 11, we have been trying in every way possible to cooperate with the government and the Public Health Agency in order to ensure that the people of Quebec and people across Canada receive the best services, the best information and the best care.
That has always been our motivation. However, we see the confusion surrounding this vaccination. It is important to get answers from this government since it is up to us to relay accurate information to our constituents. We want to ensure, through our interventions, that our constituents have access to the vaccine, the antivirals and the information.
In August, the members of the Standing Committee on Health held a meeting to get an update from the government on the status of its plan. At the time, I already mentioned to the minister that I felt this plan was being disclosed bit by bit. It is hard to work with a piecemeal plan because we end up reacting to situations instead of providing the public with clear guidelines. The public was entitled to the facts because when it comes to H1N1, it is their health that is at stake.
We know that some patients with this disease have had very serious respiratory problems and that a number of deaths have been associated with this flu pandemic, hence the need for a clear plan.
However, it seems that the government does not want to give us a clear indication of the availability of doses of vaccine that will be distributed to Quebec and the provinces. We know that in Quebec and in the provinces structures are already in place or are being implemented in order to optimize the doses received at the mass vaccination centres.
The fact that the Chief Public Health Officer and the minister only found out last Thursday that Quebec would receive approximately 300,000 fewer doses of vaccine indicates a lack of foresight.
To inform people at the last minute, while they are waiting in line to get a vaccination, that they will not be able to get it the next week or in coming weeks shows a lack of preparedness. It simply makes no sense that they did not know beforehand. The Chief Public Health Officer seemed to even say that vaccination clinics will have to close. That just does not make sense.
In my opinion, the confusion began when the government delayed approval of the vaccine. Other countries had approved the vaccine before Canada. The United States, Australia and France approved a vaccine on September 13, 18 and 25 respectively. At that point, Canadians began saying that the government must have delayed approval because there was something not right with the vaccine. Conspiracy theories surfaced on the Internet about how components of the vaccine or the adjuvant were harmful to health. People began to have doubts.
But when people understood, they all wanted the vaccine. We did educate people, and I do not accept the government's suggestion that we did not do our jobs. My Bloc Québécois and I did everything we could using scientific evidence to reassure our fellow citizens that the vaccine is safe. Once we did that, a huge number of our people wanted to get the vaccine. Once again, the government should not have based its action plan on the assumption that a certain percentage of the population would get the vaccine. It should have acted on the assumption that the vast majority of people would want it.
Earlier, the minister said that the vaccine supplier—the sole supplier, I should point out—completed its production of seasonal flu vaccine before starting to produce H1N1 flu vaccine because seasonal flu can be fatal and we need the right tools to deal with it properly. I agree with that. However, a government with a clear and precise plan would have sought out other avenues or even other suppliers to ensure that all of our fellow citizens receive the vaccine while it mattered.
At the moment, we are right in the middle of the second wave of the H1N1 pandemic, and many of our fellow citizens are not yet vaccinated. We know that those at low risk of complications will not be vaccinated until December. Earlier, the minister said that everyone would be vaccinated by Christmas. However, people are coming to see us and they are saying that by Christmas, it will all be over. They are wondering if they will even need it by then. They are wondering whether they will already have come down with this flu by Christmas. These are legitimate questions. The government has to give people the answers they need.
The minister also said again in her speech that production of adjuvanted vaccines for the general public had to be stopped so that GSK could produce unadjuvanted vaccines for pregnant women. But I believe I heard that the World Health Organization and government representatives have said that the adjuvanted vaccine could also be suitable for pregnant women. This message will have to be clarified.
Last Monday, the government announced that it was purchasing 200,000 doses of unadjuvanted vaccine from an Australian company. When the government announces that it is buying unadjuvanted vaccine for pregnant women, people can easily think that the government has found an alternative way to distribute unadjuvanted vaccine to Quebec and the provinces for pregnant women. But now, a week later, we are finding out that that was not the real reason the government was buying unadjuvanted vaccine from Australia. Here again, the way in which the government is going about procuring vaccine is not clear.
All these questions are relevant because, as I said earlier, people expect to be vaccinated quickly because we are right in the middle of the second wave of the H1N1 pandemic.
We know that the federal government has a $400 million special fund created by the previous government for use in the event of a pandemic. We have watched the Conservative government whittle away at this money, withdrawing $80 million a year because the fund had not been used to respond to a pandemic in the previous 12 months. But this money could be made available to Quebec and the provinces to improve information sharing about the vaccination campaign, for example. Or it could be transferred to Quebec and the provinces to help them hire more nurses to administer the vaccine when it arrives. Of course, all that needs to be part of a clear, coherent plan.
Earlier, I heard my colleagues talking about the situation on native reserves and in first nations communities, and rightly so. When the health committee examined this issue in August, first nations representatives, including grand chiefs, came to tell us about a disturbing situation, one that this government should be ashamed of. It is also disgraceful for the Liberals, who formed the previous government, since one of the reasons this virus, the flu virus, has been able to spread so quickly in those communities is due to overcrowding, in addition to the fact that certain isolated communities do not have access to potable water.
When, in 2009, our citizens do not have access to potable water in a country that former Prime Minister Chrétien called “the most best country in the world”, that makes no sense. One might wonder about the government's real desire to tackle this problem, which has been an issue for many years.
I remember asking government officials if they had only recently realized that certain areas within Canada did not have safe drinking water. Of course, we were told that measures would be put in place, but they had to be introduced gradually, over time, and so on. As we can see with the first wave of the flu, the fact that this aspect was neglected is making that population even more vulnerable.
The Speaker is signaling that I have only three minutes left. My colleague across the floor wishes to give me 15 minutes, Madam Speaker. Is he right? Do I really have 15 minutes left? Of course not.
In conclusion, I would simply like to come back to the fact that the minister talked about the schedule for ordering the vaccine. How is it possible that we have known since June 11 that there was a level 6 pandemic, but that the 50 million doses were not ordered until August? How is it possible that the government waited until September to order the adjuvanted vaccine, when we could have easily ordered the unadjuvanted vaccines earlier, while we were waiting to hear whether the adjuvanted vaccine was approved or safe?
That would have surely put us in a better position to help those who simply want to be vaccinated. It would be completely irresponsible on our part not to question the minister and the government about this. It is unfortunate; I know. The minister does not like it, but it is clear that deep down, we have some questions, as we all sit here in this House, and we hear from the agency and from experts. I can only imagine what Canadians are thinking, as they receive sometimes contradictory information and wonder when they will be able to get vaccinated.
I would like to thank my colleagues for their attention, and I encourage everyone in this House to participate in this important emergency debate on the H1N1 pandemic.
Hon. Jack Layton (Toronto—Danforth, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Winnipeg North.
We are facing a very serious situation. I very much appreciate that the Liberal member put forward the motion for this emergency debate. This is obviously an urgent matter for those people, those families waiting in line that we see on television.
I imagine that these people hope that, in this House, we will have a respectful discussion where we will share ideas, present the issues and encourage the government to take action. We could also highlight various facets of the problem so that we will come to a better understanding of what needs to be done.
As part of this serious debate, I wish to make some suggestions. I remember my conversation with the mayor of Kitimat, Mrs. Monahan. She had just learned that all the schools in Kitimat were to be closed.
I was speaking with the mayor of Kitimat on the phone who had just learned about the closing of a mill and the loss of 500 jobs, which is pretty much an economic disaster. She told me she had just heard 10 minutes before that schools were having to be closed in Kitimat because of high absenteeism. I was thinking of the families who are now having to look after their kids at home in the midst of that situation.
I am thinking of the nurses who work with the homeless people in our communities, people like Cathy Crowe in Toronto underlines how many homeless people are likely to be very severely affected by this virus as it spreads through the shelters.
I was thinking of the chief from northern Manitoba who met with me and the member for Churchill and only hours after that conversation received a phone call that one of the family members had passed away and had to return immediately home.
These are immensely personal situations that we are dealing with. I think at this particular time we all have to work together. One of things that we have to do together is to ensure that the vaccines that are available are distributed as quickly as possible.
I had the opportunity to chair the Toronto board of health for many years and so I have a little familiarity with what is involved. I am hearing from the people in the public health sector that one of the problems they are facing is that they really do not have the resources to deliver the vaccinations on the ground and they are having to reallocate from other parts of their budget and other parts of their activity.
I remember thinking about what happens when we have a weather disaster, a flood or an ice storm. We actually have a system in place where 90% of the funding is going to be provided by the federal government. In other words, if one is a local decision maker, one can say, “We don't have to worry about the money. It's going to be taken care of. Let's get this plan going and move as quickly as we can to try to prevent as many problems as possible”.
This would be my key proposition to advance. It is time for the federal government to step forward and say, “We're ready to backstop the financial requirements of the delivery of the vaccine so that people can get the help as quickly as possible”. I sincerely request the government to accept that suggestion in good faith.
I believe that if the government were to talk to some of the provincial officials, and I know they are having these conversations because so have I. And I can say they are worried about the costs and they are not able to do as much as they might be able to do if they knew the federal government would stand behind them.
If we can prevent tens of thousands of people from becoming sick, I know I will be able to sleep better at night knowing we did everything that we could.
Therefore, we propose that the government inform the provinces and territories that the funds will be available to deliver the vaccine to families, clinics and doctors. My second suggestion is that more advertising is needed. That is definitely true.
We have too many people who just do not have the information they need. They walk up to me on the street and ask me questions. I am not a medical expert, so I am not really in a position to answer some of the questions they are asking me. I am not going to try to lay them all out here in the time I have available. I think the members in the chamber know what I am talking about.
Therefore, I would hope that a very significant increase in the investment that we are making on informing people could be done as quickly as possible. That may mean adjusting some of the priorities. We have ad buys from the government out there. Perhaps we can make some switches and put some of this important public health material into the advertisements right away.
I am not trying to be critical because decisions are made about ad buys months ahead of time, but perhaps something could be done so that more of the questions could be answered, so that people will know what to do because they are at a high level of anxiety right now.
I would also suggest to the government that it is essential for MPs to be engaged with the government, as a Parliament, on a daily basis on this issue.
I think we have to put this particular crisis into the top priority in our work around here in the days and weeks to come. I would hope that we can find a way to do this that produces results for Canadians.
If we see what we normally see in the midst of this health crisis, as people are going to funerals, as young lives are being lost, people are going to become very disappointed in all of us. I would ask the government and I would ask all the parties to accept the propositions that we are bringing forward in good faith. I think it is a time for a level of engagement and commitment from Parliament, the likes of which we do not often require and we do not often see.
I undertake to ensure that the NDP will provide concrete ideas and suggestions. At times, we may have some constructive criticism. If we see that something is not working as it should, we will point it out in a non-partisan way.
Madam Speaker, thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to participate in this emergency debate.
I can only think about this really as a family member, as a grandfather. The best call I had today was that my daughter, who has a four-month-old baby, was able, finally, to get her vaccine this morning. That made me feel good for a whole lot of reasons and we have millions of Canadians out there who are looking to feel that same security.
Let us get on the job and make that happen. Let us ensure that it is not something that we have to pay $2,000 or $3,000 in order to get that protection for our families. Let us ensure everybody gets the protection they need.
Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis (Winnipeg North, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to follow my leader in this very important debate.
I want to begin by acknowledging the significance of this evening's discussion and thank the Speaker for recognizing the importance of having this debate.
This is our first opportunity to question the government about some of the unfortunate developments that happened this week that caused grief and anguish among Canadians everywhere.
We are not here tonight to throw stones or to cast blame. We are here tonight to get answers so that we do not repeat the same mistakes, so that we can fix the issues that have emerged, and Canadians will not have to worry and live with such fear and concern and anxiety day in and day out.
I remind members in the House that we are dealing with a most virulent, serious virus that can cause deep lung problems in people, leading to death. I remind everyone in the House that there have been 5,700 deaths in the world since the H1N1 virus first made its ugly appearance in our society.
I remind everyone in the House that we have just hit our 100th death in this country. This week alone we saw 11 deaths, young girls and boys from all parts of this country, whether we are talking about Timmins or Ottawa or Bloomingdale. Kids that were in good health and at the height of their activity were struck down. Manitoba also experienced something similar last spring when a 40-year-old man with no preconditions suddenly dropped dead from this virus.
We know how serious it is, and that is why we are raising questions tonight. We are prepared to give credit where credit is due, and we have done that over the many months we have been dealing with this issue.
I want to remind members that last April when the virus first emerged, we were quick to acknowledge the work of the minister in terms of briefing the opposition, in terms of having regular briefings, and in terms of keeping us informed. We will always acknowledge the government when it does something right.
We also, along with the government, celebrate the achievements of Dr. Frank Plummer with the National Microbiology Laboratory, who was the first scientist to decode the virus of Canadian and Mexican sources. We have much to give thanks for and we are quick to give praise where praise is due.
But this week something happened. The wheels fell off the bus. Something went terribly wrong. The commitments made by the government did not prove to be worth the paper they were written on.
I want to remind members how often we stood in our places and asked questions about how we were prepared as a nation for a national pandemic. Each and every time we received the same line: “We are on track. Don't worry, we have enough vaccine for everybody in this country. We don't need to prioritize people. We don't need to sequence people. We don't need to single out at risk people. We don't need to worry about setting up clinics. We don't need to do any of that because, in fact, we have the vaccine and we are going to get it out as promised”. The government did not do that. Something went wrong.
The government can blame GlaxoSmithKline or it can blame the provinces or whoever, but we need to hear the government say tonight that something did go wrong.
The government needs to say it is prepared to assess the situation and fix the problem, so that we can deal with people's anxieties and actually ensure that the vaccine will be forthcoming in the next week and the week after that, leading up to full coverage well before Christmas we would hope, because as everyone in the House has said, there is not much point in getting a vaccine out in December if the flu season is already over.
We want the government to act as quickly as possible with a secure supply of safe vaccine. We thought that was what it was doing on October 21 when it announced that, lo and behold, it was ahead of every nation around the world and would be bringing forward 50 million doses to cover the country and no one would need to worry.
The government promised three million doses a week. It turned out that was a bit of an exaggeration. In fact, it was two million in the first week, maybe two million the next week, and then suddenly almost nothing.
On Friday, when the provinces were already busy setting up mass immunization clinics, spending millions of dollars in terms of hiring staff, getting the facilities in place, getting the equipment, and doing everything necessary, the government picked up the phone and said the vaccine will not be forthcoming. Sorry, no can do.
I want to know, as does the rest of the House, when did the government know there was going to be such a short supply? Why did it not tell the provinces sooner? Why was it not more forthcoming about the actual situation?
Interestingly, on October 26, one week ago today, an official from GlaxoSmithKline said at committee said, “We are on track. We are on schedule in terms of producing the vaccine”. That was Monday. By Thursday, word started getting out that that was not the case. The provinces started preparing. Manitoba certainly started alerting people, much to the chagrin of the minister, whose office promptly scolded anyone for citing this as a problem. The provinces were not officially notified until Friday morning. How does one plan for something as serious and significant as a national pandemic, ensuring vaccinations of the at-risk groups and then the rest of the population, if the federal government cannot be forthcoming or even keep its word in terms of the vaccinations that are available?
If there was a problem, the government should have said so. It should have told us what the problem was. Maybe it was quality control. Maybe it stopped the production in order to do the non-adjuvanted vaccine. Maybe something else happened. We do not know. Maybe the government exaggerated what it was intending to do on October 21, when it told the whole world that it was ahead of the game and that it was going to solve the problems of this national pandemic in one fell swoop.
All we need from the government is for it to be honest, up front and transparent with what has happened. We know that we have to deal with this in real time. We know that we have never experienced it before. We also know that people are dying. Children are dying. Middle-aged men are dying. Pregnant women are scared out of their minds about what to do. They are getting all kinds of conflicting advice.
One can imagine with all of those fears going on, seeing this kind of inaction from the government and at the same time reading in the papers about private clinics getting access to the vaccine so that they can hand it out to their high-paid clients. People are buying their way to the front of the line.
We raised it in the House, but the government did not have the decency to address that. It did not have the decency to stand up and say that it is also offended by that and that it will see to it that the Canada Health Act is enforced every step of the way. It did not say that it would not allow our precious H1N1 vaccine to go out to the highest bidders.
This is about ensuring that the people who need it get it first and that it is distributed and dealt with on a public, not-for-profit basis. There is no room anywhere in our health care system for that kind of privatization. There is certainly no room in a time of crisis for a government to allow this to happen and then to say nothing about it. There is no room for it to not come clean and at least say that it should have set out guidelines, that there should be national standards and that it failed on that front.
Today, all we are asking is that the government look at the problems that happened and sort them out so that over the next few weeks, the provinces and the people of this country can be guaranteed the vaccine as they line up and wait for it. We ask that it follow the advice of my leader and start to look at cost sharing some of the expenses around this and not just 60% of the vaccine, where it ended up not keeping its end of the bargain.
We ask that it start to pay for some of the additional costs that every province has to bear and first nations communities have to undertake, anywhere extra costs come with the pandemic. We ask that it come to the table and be prepared to cooperate and show that we can solve this problem together.
We are not here to create fear or to scare people. We are here to say that there is concern and anxiety out there which the government has a responsibility to address. That is exactly what we expect from the government tonight during this emergency debate.
Mr. Colin Carrie (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I rise in the House tonight to address Canada's overall plan for preparedness with respect to the H1N1 virus.
Canadians remember all too well the 2003 outbreak of SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome. It killed 44 Canadians, made hundreds more sick and paralyzed a major segment of our health care system for weeks. More than 25,000 residents of the Toronto area were placed in quarantine, myself included. The economic effects reverberated across the entire country. The SARS experience brought to a head growing concerns about the capacity of Canada's public health system to anticipate and respond effectively to public health threats.
In May 2003, the former minister of health appointed Dr. David Naylor, then dean of the University of Toronto's school of medicine, to chair a national advisory committee on SARS and public health to look at ways to improve Canada's public health system.
The committee on SARS and public health was established in early May 2003. The committee's mandate was to provide a third party assessment of current public health efforts and lessons learned for ongoing and future infectious disease control. Committee members represented disciplines and perspectives from across Canada. Several were directly involved in responding to SARS in different capacities.
The committee reviewed source documents, conducted interviews and engaged consultants to undertake surveys, additional interviews and analyses to illuminate aspects of the SARS experience. Advice was also sought from a constitutional legal expert. Over 30 non-governmental and voluntary sector stakeholders submitted helpful briefs and letters.
The Naylor report said that dealing successfully with future public health crises would require a truly collaborative framework involving different levels of government with a shared commitment to protecting and promoting the health of all Canadians.
As Dr. Naylor said, Canada's ability to contain an outbreak is only as strong as the weakest judicial jurisdiction in the chain of provincial and territorial public health systems. He said that infectious diseases cannot be addressed in isolation by any one public health entity. All levels of the public health system needed to be reinforced and their components more fully integrated with each other.
Pre-SARS there were no federal transfers earmarked for local and PT public health activities. Public health competed against personal health services for health dollars in provincial budgets, even as the federal government increasingly earmarked its health transfers for personal health services priorities.
The SARS story, as it unfolded in Canada, had both tragic and heroic elements. Although the toll of the epidemic was substantial, thousands in the health field rose to the occasion and ultimately contained the SARS outbreak in this country. It was no small feat. For that, their efforts should be applauded.
Following Dr. Naylor's report, a new federal approach to Canada's public health system took shape based on three pillars: first, creating a chief public health officer, CPHO, for Canada; second, building a pan-Canadian public health network; and third, building a federal public health agency.
In 2004, the Public Health Agency of Canada, PHAC, was created and the Public Health Agency of Canada Act was passed in April 2006.
As the main federal agency responsible for public health, PHAC supports about 2,400 researchers and staff, as well as a wide variety of programs and services offered by both the federal government and non-governmental agencies, NGOs, across Canada.
Long before the conception of PHAC, the federal government was working closely with the World Health Organization and other public health bodies to focus on initiatives to strengthen pandemic influenza preparedness, consisting of five program components. The position of the World Health Organization, WHO, with regard to a pandemic has always been that it is a question of when, not if.
The WHO worked with member countries to produce a global agenda for influenza surveillance and control to prepare for the next influenza pandemic and to coordinate international action in influenza surveillance and control.
The WHO urged all countries to develop or update their own plans for dealing with influenza. In keeping with the WHO global agenda, the federal-provincial-territorial governments in Canada established a pandemic influenza committee that produced the Canadian pandemic influenza plan, CPIP. Among other things, the plan provided a framework to guide the actions of all levels of government for prevention, preparedness and response implementation activities. Provinces and territories used the plan as a framework for developing their own plans.
In addition, in keeping with the plan, we took a number of important steps to strengthen its pandemic readiness. We increased surveillance and monitoring of influenza outbreaks to detect cases and clusters of severe or emerging respiratory infections and to effectively prevent and contain their spread.
Also, national case definitions and standardized laboratory tests and protocols were developed to ensure consistent approaches to diagnosing, managing and reporting cases of severe respiratory infection. An influenza pandemic vaccine contract was put in place to enhance capacity to produce enough doses to meet domestic supply needs based on one dose per person in the event of a pandemic.
A pandemic influenza preparedness strategy aimed at further strengthening Canada's pandemic influenza readiness was recommended. Building on activities identified in the CPIP and outstanding issues, the proposed strategy included: first, development and testing of a mock, for example a prototype vaccine, using the H5N1 virus to test domestic production capacity and enhance regulatory readiness to reduce the time later required to prove a pandemic vaccine; second, federal contribution toward the initial establishment of a national stockpile of antiviral medications; third, new research and development measures to improve Canada's influenza research capacity and to develop rapid vaccine technology for emerging influenza viruses; fourth, emergency preparedness and response measures to improve federal-provincial-territorial capacity to respond to an influenza pandemic through health and social service planning, testing of the CPIP and development of national standards for emergency social service, psychological, social service delivery; and fifth, communications and collaboration activities to engage stakeholders in the development of a national risk communications approach and to strengthen international collaboration.
Budget 2006 provided $1 billion over five years, years 2006 to 2011, to implement this preparedness strategy to respond to the threat of pandemic influenza, including a pandemic contingency fund. This money sought to strengthen federal capacity in seven major areas: vaccines and antivirals, surge capacity, prevention and early warning, emergency preparedness, critical science and regulation, risk communications and federal-provincial-territorial and international collaboration.
PHAC received $384 million over five years to strengthen federal human health capacity to prepare and respond to the threat of avian and pandemic influenza in several areas including: rapid vaccine development capacity and the purchase of antiviral drugs; support to on-reserve first nations communities in the development, testing and revisions of community level influenza pandemic plans; risk communications strategies, including social marketing campaigns; field surge capacity such as the deployment of field epidemiologists and laboratory experts to affected countries and quarantine officers to points of entry; establishment of the national veterinary reserve and Canadian avian influenza vaccine bank; and early warning surveillance in collaboration with the WHO.
In addition, Health Canada received $15.5 million to address the needs of first nations communities with respect to public health emergency planning and for regulatory work, including review readiness and safety monitoring for vaccines and resources for review and approval of antiviral drug submissions for the treatment of pandemic influenza.
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the CIHR, also received funding of $21.5 million. This continues to support over 140 pandemic and influenza-related projects that contribute to managing the current influenza outbreak. CIHR continues to examine this research in contribution to the understanding of the H1N1 flu virus and better management of this outbreak.
This funding was a significant investment that showed foresight, leadership and commitment to the health and well-being of all Canadians. It is because of this investment that Canada has been on the leading edge of the global response.
In fact, other countries have commented on how well Canada has been responding, including Dr. Margaret Chan, head of the WHO, who specifically commended Canada for all its efforts. I think Canadians would agree that we are well prepared on each and every level.
In May of this year the health portfolio accessed the 2009-10 contingency fund to support first and second wave activities. The health portfolio used the 2009-10 contingency funding to respond to urgent H1N1 pressures on PHAC, Health Canada and the CFIA and to initiate second wave planning. Thanks to these efforts, Canada is a global leader in pandemic planning and we are implementing the Canadian pandemic influenza plan to reduce the effects of a possible pandemic.
The pandemic plan is the product of an extensive dialogue and collaboration with provincial and territorial public health authorities, health care workers, scientific exports and academics. It is only through this foresight and advanced planning that the health portfolio has been in a position to respond as quickly and effectively as it has to the H1N1 virus.
I want to give the House an update. At the end of the first week of the largest mass immunization campaign in Canadian history, the Government of Canada supplied the following amounts of H1N1 adjuvanted vaccine doses to the provinces: in Ontario, 2,229,000 doses; in Quebec, 1,331,000 doses; in British Columbia, 818,000 doses; in Alberta, 622,000 doses; in Manitoba, 206,000 doses; in Saskatchewan, 173,000 doses; in New Brunswick, 129,000 doses; in Newfoundland and Labrador, 86,000 doses; in Nova Scotia, 160,000 doses—
Hon. Wayne Easter: Why don't you tell us how many you're short?
Mr. Colin Carrie: —in Prince Edward Island, 29,000 doses; in the Northwest Territories, 34,000 doses—
Hon. Wayne Easter: You're short 110,000.
Mr. Colin Carrie: I hear some heckling from the other side. I had hoped we would not make little of this subject. It is very important for the provinces and the people of Canada to know. I am really disappointed with the continued heckling and politicizing of this.
In the Yukon Territory, we have provided 24,000 doses and in Nunavut, 22,000 doses. Today and tomorrow GlaxoSmithKline, the H1N1 vaccine supplier, will be shipping 486,000 more doses of vaccine to the provinces and territories.
I want to talk about H1N1 and pregnant women. Extraordinary efforts went into procuring unadjuvanted vaccine for pregnant women. The Government of Canada secured 225,000 doses of unadjuvanted H1N1 vaccine for pregnant women and the distribution is as follows: in Ontario, 86,800 doses; in Quebec, 52,000 doses; in Alberta, 28,600 doses; in British Columbia, 25,000 doses; in Manitoba, 9,200 doses; in Saskatchewan, 8,100 doses; in Nova Scotia, 5,400 doses; in New Brunswick, 4,400 doses; in Newfoundland, 2,900 doses; in Prince Edward Island, 900 doses; in Nunavut, 600 doses; in the Northwest Territories, 600 doses; and in the Yukon, 400 doses.
I hope this will show Canadians who are watching tonight and the opposition that we are rolling out our plan. We are ahead of schedule in our plan and we are committed to putting the safety of Canadians first.
Ms. Kirsty Duncan (Etobicoke North, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard.
Throughout May and June of this year, 21 remote and isolated communities in northern Manitoba were significantly affected by the H1N1 virus. When and where did these cases start and spread? An investigation needs to be undertaken as to why aboriginal cases were not picked up, or if they were, why they were not reported and acted upon.
What federal officials went to northern Manitoba as Canadian scientists went to Mexico? Where was the compassion and the urgency to see first-hand the devastation, the lack of supplies and infrastructure, and most important, what was needed to perhaps slow down the spread of the virus and guarantee prompt treatment of very sick individuals?
Why was there a lack of federal action during the spring wave in aboriginal communities? Why were aggressive containment measures not attempted? The WHO has since said these measures can slow the spread.
What was done to ensure the administration of antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu in a timely manner? Antiviral drugs, when used for treatment, can make someone feel better or shorten the time a person is sick by one or two days. They can also prevent serious flu complications. Dr. Anand Kumar, an emergency doctor from Winnipeg, explained to our parliamentary health committee that some people had to wait seven or eight days for treatment and that this likely impacted patient outcome.
Aboriginal people account for only 4% of the Canadian population. Why were 17.5% of those who were hospitalized aboriginal, 15% who stayed in ICU aboriginal, and 12% of deaths aboriginal? As of October 7, why were 38% of confirmed H1N1 cases first nations or Métis persons living off-reserve? A real investigation is needed so that these sad and sobering statistics are not repeated.
Every effort should have been taken to protect the health of aboriginal Canadians, as we had historical hindsight wherein the native population of Okak, Labrador, was hard hit. Only 59 or 266 people survived.
There are underlying health issues today, breathing difficulties, diabetes, underlying socio-economic conditions such as four and five families living in a household, environmental issues, and lack of clean running water. As such, my colleague from the riding of St. Paul's and I travelled to aboriginal communities to see first-hand the state of pandemic preparedness and we wrote a letter to the minister asking for answers to our questions. My colleague asked that the health committee be called back in August, because the House had recessed June 18 and would not sit again until September 14.
One chief reported that, of 30 communities in northern Manitoba, two had a pandemic plan and none had been tested. Pandemic preparedness and response should not be a test in patience and humility for aboriginal peoples, and we recognize the government's action in bringing back Dr. Paul Gully.
Going forward in the second wave, we want to ensure that each community has an H1N1 plan that has been tested, with the necessary supplies, funding and human resources so that people receive treatment in a timely manner and suitable infection-control measures.
The summer provided an unprecedented opportunity, namely to remain vigilant and prepare for a possible second wave in order to reduce hospitalizations, deaths and socio-economic impacts. However, members of the parliamentary health committee learned that the government would stay the course regarding H1N1. Canadians did not need platitudes, but rather, planning, answers and action during the critical summer period.
While no one could have predicted what the fall might have brought, preparedness was our insurance policy. The more we prepared for a pandemic, the greater the probability that we would be able to mitigate impacts. During the summer, where was the Prime Minister, the health minister and the government in engaging decision-makers and citizenry regarding H1N1 influenza?
The summer was the time to inform the public about a potential second wave of H1N1 and the means by which individual citizens could lessen the impact on their families. The summer was also the time to encourage communities and ensure that vulnerable populations were prepared.
While underlying medical conditions such as autoimmune diseases and breathing challenges make individuals more at risk of complications or more likely to experience severe or lethal infections, how should information have been communicated to at-risk groups? This is key.
The summer was the time to plan for a possible gap between the onset of a pandemic, the second wave, and the time when vaccines might be ready.
Why did the government choose one vaccine manufacturer with one production line, particularly when influenza vaccine supply has a greater degree of unpredictability than the supply of any other vaccine? The United States contracted with five companies.
Why did the government order late and allow for a late delivery date? What was the contingency plan to ensure backup product and timely delivery of initial vaccine doses?
The government gambled on a possible November or December start date for a second wave of H1N1 and it estimated wrong. The second wave hit parts of Canada in October, as it did in the past, and before the vaccine was available.
The rollout began this past week, sadly, with confusion, frustration and lineups. Those vaccinated this past week will not be protected for 10 to 14 days. This week, there is a drop in vaccine doses.
How many Canadians have been vaccinated? What percentage of the population do they represent? What is the government's contingency plan for the gap period? That is the time between the second wave hitting and when people can get vaccinated.
Communication is vital in responding to any crisis, and clear, consistent messages are required. Our offices have been inundated by health care workers and the public who want real answers.
Perhaps the greatest confusion has surrounded vaccine for pregnant women. The World Health Organization advisory panel on vaccines recommended in June that non-adjuvanted vaccine be used for pregnant women if it were available. However, the Conservative government ordered adjuvanted vaccine in early August and later ordered non-adjuvanted vaccine. Why were pregnant women an afterthought?
When the WHO made its recommendation in June, there was no safety data for the adjuvanted vaccine in pregnant women, and expectant women fared poorly during past pandemics.
The government then recommended that pregnant women wait for the non-adjuvanted vaccine unless the cases of H1N1 were rising in their area. If the woman was over 20 weeks, she should take the adjuvanted vaccine.
To add to the confusion, the government then ordered 200,000 doses from Australia. We recognize that the position has now been made clear.
Regarding the adjuvanted and non-adjuvanted vaccines, we must ask: Who made the decision to halt the production of the adjuvanted vaccine? On what date was the decision made and the provinces and territories told? On what date did the minister know the delivery date would be delayed, and when did the minister inform the provinces and territories and the Canadian people?
Since the spring we have asked over 200 questions of the government regarding pandemic preparedness. We wanted to ensure that the government was prepared for a possible second wave. We are now in full response mode and we need bold action.
We need the $400 million from the 2006 budget redeployed to pandemic response. We need additional resources for the provinces and territories. We need clear, consistent messages for public health and Canadians.
Mr. Bernard Patry (Pierrefonds—Dollard, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this emergency debate on the A (H1N1) virus. I asked to take part in it because I have spent my whole life, whether as a general practitioner or as a politician—mayor or member of Parliament—trying to understand people and disease, but particularly listening, diagnosing and then supporting my patients through their ordeals, whatever these may have been.
Health is the single most important thing for each and every one of our fellow citizens, and we must, to the extent possible, try to maintain our health, including through prevention. Prevention can be a very personal matter such as eating a healthy diet or being a non-smoker. However, prevention is also a government's responsibility, as is the case with the current A (H1N1) pandemic, regarding which the Conservative government has failed miserably in its prevention approach.
Let us not forget that we are now going through the second phase of this pandemic, with the first phase having begun in Mexico, last spring. So, the Conservative government was aware of the issue and had plenty of time to prepare for it, but showed no leadership in this regard. The other countries have been preparing for a long time to fight this pandemic, but what has the Conservative government done?
Health authorities all over the world saw this pandemic coming when the virus hit, back in April. And while many countries were busy ordering vaccines in May, the Conservatives waited until early August.
The World Health Organization, the WHO, recommended the production of H1N1 flu vaccines on July 7, but the Conservative government waited until August 6, a month later, to order vaccines from GlaxoSmithKline. That unbelievable delay is largely responsible for the current shortage of vaccines. The WHO also recommended non-adjuvanted vaccines for pregnant women on July 7, but again the Conservatives waited and did not order those vaccines until September 4. Why did it wait for close to two months before making a decision?
The federal government's slowness in following up on the WHO recommendations resulted in the production of adjuvanted vaccines being slowed down this week, because of new priorities in the production. This is why fewer vaccines have been delivered to Canadians.
A number of other countries placed their orders for vaccine much earlier than Canada. The United States and the United Kingdom placed their first orders in May. Yes, I said in May. By July 24, Novartis International had already received orders for the H1N1 vaccine and was holding discussions with more than 35 governments. It had even signed contracts with the United States, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland. The Americans alone ordered more than $1 billion worth of H1N1 vaccine and it was delivered well before the vaccine was made available in Canada.
Take China for example. It started its mass vaccination campaign by administering its first H1N1 vaccines on September 21. Australia did so on September 30, the United States on October 5, Sweden on October 12, Japan on October 19, and Great Britain on October 21. Canada, on the other hand, did not start vaccinations until October 26.
A government that felt responsible for the health and safety of its citizens would have acted back in May. A responsible government would have taken the lead on this by conducting a public education campaign at all levels. Did this Conservative government promote the vaccine, explain the gravity of the illness to Canadians, and tell them as well that in order for the vaccine to be really effective and substantially reduce the number of people who fall sick, as many people as possible have to be vaccinated? The answer is no.
The harmful effects of this virus should be explained to Canadians through the electronic media, newspapers, schools, the universities and even religious institutions. People have a right to know. Five medical doctors in the Liberal caucus issued a press release on this and have been constantly asking the government questions about it, but are still without an answer.
South of the border, the Obama administration has proclaimed a national health emergency and given U.S. health authorities additional powers to deal with the pandemic and contain it. Instead of informing Canadians about the possibly very serious effects of th