It appears that the plan to have every Canada vaccinated against H1N1 flu is not coming cheap. New estimates show that the vaccination program could cost more than $2 billion.

The vaccine has been available to Canadians for only about three weeks now, but according to a report in The Globe and Mail, $1.51-billion has already been spent.

That figure was reached after reviewing estimates from federal, provincial and territorial governments.

The actual figure might be even higher, because many provinces are still revising their costs, while others have yet to release total estimates.

In September, provincial and territorial health ministers predicted the cost of buying and delivering the vaccine at around $806-million, or about $16 per dose.

But based on these new estimates, the total cost is currently running at about $30 a shot --and climbing.

The cost of buying 50.4 million doses has been estimated by federal officials at $403 million. But there have been many extra costs incurred by Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Those agencies have racked up the bills by:

  • developing emergency and strategic plans
  • conducting surveillance and outbreak management
  • overtime and standby pay for regulatory and lab staff
  • conducting rapid research

Earlier this week, Treasury Board President Vic Toews released 2009-10 supplementary budget estimates and estimated those costs at about $78 million.

But related provincial costs were not included; those are sure to cost millions of dollars more.

Costs have reportedly soared at the provincial level because the unexpected demand for the vaccine has forced many regional health authorities to open more clinics and to ask health staff to work overtime.

Last week, Quebec's health minister said the province will end up spending at least $200 million on H1N1 vaccination. Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger has said the vaccination program's cost could double beyond the original $47-million estimate. And Alberta has put its figure at $100 million.

By contrast, Alberta spends about $3.2-million on free seasonal flu shots annually.

Then there's the cost of the federal government's H1N1 awareness campaign. The Public Health Agency figures its radio, television, online and print ads carry a $4.5-million price tag.

Federal officials have always pleased for patience in the rollout of the pandemic flu vaccine program, noting that this is the largest immunization program in Canadian history and it is not easy to distribute vaccine across a nation as vast as ours.

Officials have had to balance the costs of the vaccine program against the potential costs to society and the labour force if a pandemic virus were allowed to spread unabated.

Yet some health experts have questioned the cost of the program, noting that the expense far outweighs the seriousness of the H1N1 virus

Dr. Richard Schabas, the medical officer of health for Ontario's Hastings and Prince Edward Counties Health Unit tells the Globe he thinks H1N1 lu has been "the most overhyped, overblown exercise I've ever been a part of," noting that the virus is not causing high rates of serious disease or death.

Meanwhile, a new poll suggests most Canadians think governments have done an OK job handling of the H1N1 pandemic.

The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey found 22 to 24 per cent of those surveyed said each level of government has done a good job dealing with H1N1 flu, while another 33 to 37 per cent describe their performance as at least fair.

Alberta was the exception, with 61 per cent of respondents rating their provincial government's response to swine flu as poor.

With reports from The Canadian Press