UPDATE 1-Canadian health officials discount vaccine "myths"

Fri Oct 23, 2009 6:24pm EDT

* Officials say vaccine fears not based on facts

* Say immunization key to stemming pandemic

* Poll indicates public worried (Updates with poll, paragraph 13)

By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Oct 23 (Reuters) - Canadian health officials expressed frustration on Friday over what they said were myths about the danger of getting vaccinated against H1N1 flu.

Canada's immunization program is just getting under way with the federal health department, Health Canada, giving final approval this week to a vaccine produced by GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK.L), ruling it is safe and effective.

But officials acknowledge there are public fears that the vaccine could be more dangerous than the disease.

"There are a lot of myths out there," federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said in Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories.

Complaints about the potential dangers of the program, which are often spread over the Internet, include allegations that people will end up contracting flu from the vaccine.

There have also been media reports that the preliminary finding of a Canadian study had suggested that the disease might be linked to past immunization efforts for seasonal flu.

Canada's chief public health officer, David Butler-Jones, said the alleged dangers are not supported by scientific facts, and the fears are often the result of people making inaccurate assumptions.

"It's sort of like saying that ice cream causes hot weather because (we see) more ice cream cones on hot days," Butler-Jones told reporters, saying that some immunization critics are "making up the facts".

Butler-Jones said Canada was able to slow the virus's spread by education on the need for personal protection, including regular hand washing, and that it will lose ground in the fight against the disease if myths are painted as fact.

"Immunization is the only thing that will stop the pandemic and prevent however many people from becoming ill," he said.

Canada, which was one of the first countries to report cases of the H1N1 flu as it initially spread from Mexico, is now into the second wave of the pandemic, federal health officials said.

Immunization is not mandatory in Canada, and usually only half of the population chooses to get vaccinated against seasonal flu. But health officials have said they will have enough H1N1 vaccine available for any Canadian who wants it.

An poll published on Friday by the Canwest New Service found about 49 percent of Canadians are not likely to get vaccinated, with 30 percent saying they are not at all likely to get the shots. Thirty-six percent said they were very likely to get immunized.

Health Canada has been criticized for lagging other countries in approving a vaccine and distributing it, but the debate on whether to take the vaccine has not become a major political issue.

Canada has ordered 50.4 million doses of H1N1 flu vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline for a national population of more than 33 million. (Reporting by Allan Dowd, editing by Peter Galloway)

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