Wednesday, May 22, 2024

As national measles vaccine shortage extends another month, some travel to U.S. | CBC News

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A national shortage of measles vaccines will continue for at least another month.

That means most people born before 1970 won’t be able to follow public health advice and get a shot before travel outside Canada — unless they cross the border to get the shot.

Some New Brunswickers have been doing just that, according to Joleen Fowler, a pharmacy technician at Walgreens in Calais, Maine.

“We’ve had a few people come over and ask, you know, if they were able to get it from us, and we were able to oblige,” she said.

Merck, Canada’s supplier, had expected the shortage of its MMR II vaccine, for measles, mumps and rubella, for the private market such as travel clinics, to end by April 19, but now lists May 15 as the estimated end date on Health Canada’s Drug Shortages website.

Merck has also posted an anticipated shortage of its ProQuad vaccine from April 26 until Aug. 30. ProQuad is used for the prevention of measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox in children between 12 months and 12 years old.

An increase in demand for measles vaccines, due to a rise in cases and outbreaks across the country and the world, led to the shortage, Merck Canada said in an email to CBC News Friday.

Remaining doses of the company’s measles vaccines are being reserved for publicly funded childhood immunization programs.

Working to ensure consistent supply for public programs

Asked whether Merck still expects to be able to fully meet the demands of these public immunization programs, the company replied via email: “We continue to work diligently with all relevant stakeholders, including provincial and federal health authorities, to provide a consistent supply of MMR®II vaccines in a timely manner.

“Our priority remains firmly focused on ensuring the availability of this vaccine to those who need it the most.”

Canada’s other measles vaccine supplier, GSK, continues to meet the public market demand for its vaccine Priorix, and its current supply is allocated to fulfilling contractual commitments in Canada for 2024, according to spokesperson Rita Moutinho.

Although GSK does not supply the private market with its Priorix vaccine, it too has posted a shortage report to proactively indicate it cannot fulfil private orders. Its estimated end date is listed as unknown.

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Both Merck and GSK “have confirmed they continue to meet the demand for Canada’s public immunization programs,” said Health Canada spokesperson Nicholas Janveau.

According to Health Canada’s website, “There is enough supply of the measles-containing vaccine and post-exposure prophylaxis to support targeted vaccination campaigns and manage a measles outbreak.”

The private market for measles vaccines “makes up a very small portion of the overall demand,” it says.

“Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada continue to work closely with the manufacturers, provinces and territories and stakeholders to monitor supply and identify options to mitigate the impact of the shortage,” Janveau said in an emailed statement. He did not elaborate.

Public health recommendations

The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends people born before 1970 get at least one dose before any international travel, amid an increase in cases in many parts of the world.

This dose is not currently publicly funded, as these people have been considered immune from past exposure to the measles virus.

People born after 1970 should have two vaccine doses, the Public Health Agency of Canada says.

Major measles outbreak expected without better vaccination rates, modelling shows

Quebec has launched measles vaccination clinics as officials fear a major outbreak would put thousands of children at risk of getting very sick or even dying. The number of confirmed cases in Canada in 2024 has already exceeded the total for 2023, and modelling shows it could quickly get out of hand if vaccination rates don’t increase.

Measles is a highly contagious disease that can cause serious illness and severe complications, including deafness, brain damage and even death.

The virus is transmitted through the air when an infected person breathes, coughs, sneezes or talks, or by direct contact with infected nasal or throat secretions.

Costs about $250 in Calais

The New Brunswickers who have visited Walgreens in Calais said they were having a hard time getting the vaccine at home, said Fowler.

“The ones that I can recall, they had mentioned that they had tried to go [to] Saint John or Fredericton and were unable to get the vaccine in either area,” she said.

“They didn’t say where they were going, they just said that they were trying to travel overseas and so they needed to get the measles vaccine in order to do so.”

A white building with red lettering, 'Walgreens,' and some vehicles in the parking lot.
Some New Brunswickers born before 1970 have been travelling to Walgreens in Calais, Maine, to get the measles vaccine — some from as far away as Fredericton, according to pharmacy technician Joleen Fowler. (Google Street View)

They were grateful to get the shot, said Fowler, and didn’t mind paying the roughly $110 US, plus another estimated $70 for the administration fee. That’s about $250 Cdn.

People don’t need an appointment or any medical records, she said. They just need to fill out a questionnaire for the pharmacist to review.

Being fully vaccinated almost 100% effective

Measles typically starts with cold-like symptoms, such as fever, cough, red, watery eyes, and runny nose.

About three to seven days after symptoms begin, a rash that looks like small red spots appears. It usually starts on the head/neck and spreads down the body, arms and legs.

Having two doses of a measles-containing vaccine after one year of age is almost 100 per cent effective at preventing measles, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

In New Brunswick, children are covered to get two doses of a combined measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (MMRV) vaccine, at 12 and 18 months.

Adults born in 1970 or later who haven’t received two doses are also covered.

In addition, children aged six to 11 months are also eligible to get one dose now, if they’re going to travel outside the country.

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