10/29/2012 04:16 EDT | Updated 12/29/2012 05:12 EST

Saskatchewan may have to get flu vaccine from other provinces after suspension

REGINA - Saskatchewan Health Minister Dustin Duncan says the province expects to know in a day or so when flu shot clinics can reopen.

All clinics in the province were suspended last Friday due to concerns that tiny clumps of virus particles were found in some batches of the vaccine made by Novartis at its production facility in Italy.

Duncan said Monday that the province is waiting to hear from Health Canada on whether it can use Novartis again or if it needs to tap into vaccine supplies from different manufacturers used by other provinces.

"Essentially, if we don't have that within in the next day or so, we'll go to the backup plan, which is working with the three provinces that have surplus of the other two vaccines. We'll make that decision, probably I would say (Tuesday) or Wednesday at the latest," said Duncan.

"If it is to go with the two other vaccines, then it'll take two to three days to receive those vaccines. So early next week, I would think, is when you'll see the flu clinics up and running."

Novartis provides about 20 per cent of Canada's flu vaccine. GlaxoSmithKline makes the bulk of Canada's seasonal flu vaccine, though a variety of other suppliers have a share of the Canadian market.

Duncan said Novartis supplied the vast majority of the vaccine in Saskatchewan and that was the province's choice.

"It's preloaded syringes, so it's an easier, it's a quicker product to use from the perspective of our patients and the frontline workers," he said.

But the Opposition New Democrats wondered why the province relied so heavily on one supplier for the flu shots.

"I think it is concerning that we have put all our eggs in one basket when it comes to the flu vaccines. Other provinces have been able to carry on with the delivery of the flu clinics because they have a diversified supply," said NDP health critic Cam Broten.

Only about one per cent of Manitoba's vaccine supply is Agriflu, which is one of the two Novartis products in question.

The Alberta government said Agriflu comprises about 22 per cent of its total vaccine supply. The Novartis products comprise about 30 per cent of B.C.'s provincial flu vaccine supply.

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.

Novartis said finding minute clumps of virus protein in vaccines is not unusual. They said their vaccines passed quality inspections and they are confident the products are safe.