Canada has approved a new vaccine for about 2.5 million children across the country to prevent deadly childhood diseases. It was a controversial decision with drug maker Pfizer Canada facing some opposition from patients who couldn’t access it.
The vaccine, known as CPVI, was approved by health regulators on Friday, their first in almost a decade. It helps to prevent pneumococcal disease, the fifth leading cause of death among children in Canada. It can also prevent meningitis, bacterial blood clots and multiple bacterial infections.
Pfizer is already marketing a third-generation version of the vaccine for an age group from five to 65 that starts in the 2017-18 season.
Speaking to a Canadian parliamentary committee earlier this year, Pfizer said the launch of the new, treatment-ready versions would make it easier for patients to access the new vaccine. The company also said CPVI is a significant advance as it produces significantly fewer side effects.
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Despite being touted as an advance, the company still faces some opposition. Late last year, Pfizer Canada implemented a partial freeze on CPVI orders in the country to prevent supply shortages. Some patients challenged the decision, claiming the move could impact future access to CPVI vaccines.
One of those children is Cameron Van Nieuwenhuizen of Calgary, Alberta. He has CPVI, a bacterial infection, in both eyes and is unlikely to live to see his 14th birthday. He received a CPVI nasal spray in the pediatric clinic he sees every three months. It was the first time he had received an injectable vaccine against a serious disease.
Cameron and his family have been raising the issue with state health care officials.
“We keep getting a hearing going in state health – I think we have four occasions,” said his father, Marc Van Nieuwenhuizen. “We’re still far behind in line with the families that have access, we’re caught up for the people that are close to getting all the CMV shots.”
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“They’re trying to block us out, to discourage patients from even asking,” said Cameron’s mother, Shelly. “We don’t want to be in this position at all, because it’s not fair.”
On Tuesday, federal health officials said they are working on a “globally uniform” approach to the treatment of pediatric pneumococcal disease. “This approach will advance access for patients across Canada,” they said in a statement.
Cameron, who is currently rehabilitating from complications related to his infection, doesn’t have access to the treatment. He receives shots on weekends and Mondays and can’t take in doctor’s notes because he doesn’t have work or school accommodations.
The family does not know when it will be approved for pneumococcal disease, its leading bacterial respiratory infection, which can also lead to ear infection, scarring and inflammation. Cameron has to take four treatments per year for his eye infection. “It’s been really hard because we can’t help him with any of these diseases,” said Marc.
Cameron’s situation highlighted a long-standing complaint among parents and health care organizations that kids are getting cut out of access to vaccines.
Last year, the federal public health ministry acknowledged that “regulatory capture” in the 2008 G8 summit-inspired takeover of provincial vaccine registries by the Canadian Public Health Agency had caused issues. The organisation’s decision to pull out of administrating provincial registries, made in a June 2008 to meet obligations for the G8/OECD public health ministers summit in Halifax, Nova Scotia, resulted in high government cost to administer vaccines outside provinces, but few public health benefits, critics said.