Nunavut is rationing a tuberculosis vaccine after the drug manufacturer stopped distributing it two months ago.
The BCG vaccine is normally given to newborns because of the high rate of tuberculosis in the territory. Nunavut's TB rate is about 75 times the national average, according to the Canadian Medical Association.
The vaccine protects against serious forms of TB for two years. Right now the territory has enough vaccine for about half of the babies that are expected to be born this year, and more might not be available until the fall.
Maureen Baikie, Nunavut's deputy chief medical officer, said parents who want the BCG vaccine will be able to get it, but they may have to wait.
“It may be a few months before we're able to get it to every child, but we don't expect there to be any adverse effects on their child due to this supply issue,” she said.
Nurses will be giving the BCG vaccine in batches. The territory has 40 vials left and each vial contains 10 doses, but they must be used within eight hours of the vial being opened. That means a newborn will have to wait until nine other little girls and boys are ready for their vaccine.
Karen Mackenzie, who is about a month away from giving birth, said she has decided not to give her baby the BCG vaccine because she believes the risk is low for her family, but she knows not everyone in Nunavut is so lucky.
“I would hate to think that someone who wanted to have this vaccine and who perhaps is in a situation that they should have this vaccine isn’t able to get it,” she said.
Sanofi Pasteur makes the vaccine at a facility in Ontario. The company said there's a problem with the final test the vaccine must pass and it’s not sure when the problem will be fixed.
The Public Health Agency of Canada says it's aware of the problem and is working with the company to correct it. It's also looking for another source for the vaccine.
Manufacturers provide information about drug shortages to the government on a voluntary basis.
Dr. John Haggie, president of the Canadian Medical Association, said the voluntary system isn't working.
“We need to ensure that not only do we have the right drugs, but we have a guarantee that they will be delivered in a timely way,” he said.
Haggie is calling for a national pharmaceutical strategy to ensure shortages like the one in Nunavut don't happen.