10/28/2012 05:33 EDT | Updated 12/28/2012 05:12 EST

Ontario's Flu Program Safe Despite Novartis Suspension

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR NCOA - Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, right, gets his flu shot from Shawna Wilson, left, during the flu shot clinic at the Armory Park Senior Center in Tucson, Ariz., Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012. This clinic is part of the Flu + You initiative to educate 65 and older adults about the available flu vaccine options. (John Miller/AP Images for NCOA)

Ontario's chief medical officer says Health Canada's decision to temporarily suspend two vaccines made in Italy should not dissuade people from nevertheless protecting themselves through the free flu immunization program.

In a statement Sunday, Dr. Arlene King reassured Ontarians that getting the flu shot is still the best way to prevent people from getting infected by the seasonal influenza flu viruses.

"The flu shot remains the most effective and safe way to protect you and your family from seasonal flu," she said. "I encourage everyone to take advantage of the free influenza vaccines."

Although Ontario has abided by Health Canada's move to suspend the vaccines FluAd and Agriflu — both manufactured at the pharmaceutical company Novartis's production facility in Italy — King said the impact on Ontarians would be minimal.

FluAd, Agriflu only account for 18% of Ontario supply

Canada decided to follow Europe's lead in suspending the Novartis vaccines, after it was found that clumps of viral proteins were detected in some vaccine batches.

In a statement issued Friday night, the company said more than one million doses of its flu vaccines have been administered in Europe so far this season and no unexpected adverse events have been reported.

As well, it said that it has already delivered about 70 per cent of its Canadian order (roughly 1.5 million doses), again without hearing of problems in people who have received Novartis flu shots. The company said people who have received Novartis flu shots are not at risk, and that minute clumps of virus particles in some batches of flu vaccines is not unusual.

FluAd and Agriful only account for 18 per cent of Ontario's supply, and the province offers two other publicly funded vaccines that are not affected by the suspension, making up the remaining 82 per cent.

King said that flu immunization in Ontario began weeks ago, without any unexpected health reactions reported.

Anyone who has already had their flu shots and has concerns can call Telehealth at 1-866-797-0000, or visit this website for more information on Ontario's flu campaign.

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