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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Did the Western Standard warn of a pandemic?

Life in Mexico City is beginning to return to normal as the government lifts restrictions and fears over swine flu begin to subside. We are not out of the woods yet, however, as the virus still has the potential to become a serious issue, either now or in the fall when the flu could make a comeback. Talk of potential pandemics has become increasingly familiar to Canadians after the 2003 SARS crisis and the 2005 Avian Flu scare. Back in 2005, the Western Standard took an in-depth look at pandemic preparedness and argued that another pandemic was inevitable and that Canadian authorities were not doing enough to prepare for the eventuality:

The U.S. already has already ordered a stockpile of two million doses of the H5N1 vaccine, with production beginning once testing of the vaccine is complete. Canada is going a different route. Butler-Jones argues that, under international agreements, any vaccine formula the U.S. might produce would be shared with other countries, and so Canada has currently chosen to focus its efforts on other areas, such as early global detection. "Should Canada do the 'me too,' or should Canada continue to do what we're doing in terms of adding to the body of knowledge?" he asks. "Should we look at finding another piece that isn't being done elsewhere, to ensure that's added to the body of knowledge? Those are the conversations that are going on right now" in Canada. But the reason, says Butler-Jones, that the Canadian government is not stockpiling vaccines is because it chooses not to. "The most efficient way of doing the research is to have different places doing different pieces, and then sharing the information," he says.…

While experts may quibble over the number of fatalities, all agree on one thing: it's not a question of if such a deadly pandemic will strike the world, but when. There is almost universal consensus among influenza experts, says Cheng, that pandemics are cyclical. "Typically, they occur every 30 years," she says. "In the twentieth century, there were three: in 1918 [which killed 40-million people globally and 50,000 in Canada], 1957 and 1968. There is no reason to believe that there will not be another influenza pandemic in this century."

There is little doubt that the world will eventually be faced with another influenza pandemic, as they have occurred throughout history. The big question is whether or not we are sufficiently prepared. The Canadian government had a very limited response to previous pandemics, but our level of preparedness has increased significantly since the Hong Kong Flu hit in 1968. The government began working on a plan for pandemic influenza back in 1983 and got serious about its planning efforts in the 1990s.

The Western Standard raised issues about Canada's pandemic preparations in 2005, but until we are faced with an actual pandemic, it's hard to tell how the current plan will hold up. A unique aspect about the Canadian situation is that each province has it's own pandemic plan and any analysis of the Canadian response would not be complete without taking a look at these plans as well. This could cause a situation where some provinces are more prepared than others to handle a large-scale outbreak.

There were also questions raised in 2005 as to whether or not Canada should be stockpiling Avian Flu vaccines. It seems clear that Canada did the right thing by not wasting taxpayer dollars on a vaccine for a virus that has yet to cause any significant damage. Our plan to ensure we have the capacity to produce a vaccine when a pandemic does strike would seem like a sensible solution. An Avian Flu vaccine would do little to stop the spread of swine flu, which scientists are currently working on a vaccine for. Due to the nature of such viruses, however, it is never clear how long a vaccine will be effective before the virus mutates.

Governments around the world have been on high alert during the current outbreak so as not to be caught off guard if the situation becomes more critical. I see little reason to worry about the preparedness of developed nations, such as Canada. A bigger concern is causing mass hysteria about a virus that has, so far, been quite mild.

Posted by Jesse Kline on May 5, 2009 in Current Affairs | Permalink


A little perspective: It's estimated that the Spanish Flu infected about 25% of the population. In 1918 that works out to about 2,037,000 Canadians stuck in bed with the flu. Now, between 30,000 and 50'000 Canadians died from it. Therefore, even though the federal government TOOK NO ACTION against the Spanish Flu, Canada enjoyed a survival rate between 95.55% and 98.53%.

However, to say that the federal government took no action in response to the Spanish Flu is not correct. For you see, the federal Department of Health was CREATED in 1919 as a reaction to the Spanish Flu.

FYI: In 2009/2010 Health Canada will cost Canadian taxpayers an estimated $3,368,658,000.

Posted by: Anonymous | 2009-05-06 9:02:30 AM

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