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Yellow fever vaccine production delay affects international travellers

Boxes of the yellow fever vaccine are pictured in Dakar, Senegal in a file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP,Christine Nesbitt
January 21, 2014 - 4:03 PM

SASKATOON - A temporary production delay for the yellow fever vaccine has caused a shortage across North America.

It's affecting international travellers and the deputy medical officer of health for the Saskatoon Health Region says only people going to countries with a high risk of the mosquito-carrying disease are guaranteed to receive the shot.

Dr. Michael Schwandt speaks for health region's International Travel Centre, the only designated yellow fever centre in Saskatoon where travellers must book appointments to find out if they qualify for the vaccine.

Schwandt says the criteria for what constitutes a country as "high risk" is determined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Yellow fever, which gets its name from the yellowing of the skin and eyes that occurs when the virus attacks the liver, exists in tropical regions of Central and South America, as well as parts of Africa and Asia, but the risk levels differ from country to country.

The vaccine is manufactured in France by Sanofi Pasteur, but no one could be reached to explain the production delay.

"If a traveller is unable to receive the vaccine and still travels to that location, that's a decision they're making," Schwandt said.

He adds that it's still important for people to consult medical officials to see if they require any other vaccines or anti-malarial medication.

If travellers require a yellow fever vaccination certificate in order to enter a specific country, the health region will provide a medical waiver free of charge.

"And that is to say that the risk related to the vaccine is higher than the benefit, and this is only for those places where there is a low risk of yellow fever but our clients still require evidence of vaccination in order to enter those countries," Schwandt said.

The health region expects the vaccine supply to be replenished by the end of the month. In the meantime, it's asking people with travel dates further into the future to reschedule their appointment, which would free up vaccines for those travelling in the interim.

Schwandt said this type of vaccine shortage is pretty unusual.

"Because the Public Health Agency of Canada, with respect to yellow fever, is only involved in certifying clinics that are able to give the vaccine, and Health Canada is involved with regulating the quality of the vaccine, there's nothing really that our national bodies are able to do in terms of prompting this. So this is really in the hands of the manufacturer," he said.


News from © The Canadian Press, 2014
The Canadian Press

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