A third person in the province has died from H1N1. Health Minister Jerome Kennedy said Sunday a 63-year-old woman died overnight in St. Anthony.
The minister expressed his condolences and sympathy to the woman's family and friends during a media briefing at Confederation Building Sunday afternoon.
He said the woman had multiple underlying conditions, but he wouldn't release further details because of patient confidentiality.
Last weekend, a 36-year-old woman died in central Newfoundland and Wednesday, a 40-year-old man died in the central region from H1N1. Both were also said to have underlying medical conditions.
Kennedy said data he's receiving daily indicates a movement of the H1N1 flu from the western and central regions to the east coast.
"Over the last 24 hours," he said, "we've had 18 new admissions of influenza-like illness in the province, spread out over the province with half of them in the eastern region."
The term influenza-like illness is being used because lab results are not yet available for all these cases, but they are all suspected to be H1N1.
On Sunday, Kennedy said, there were 124 people hospitalized with influenza-like illness and a total of 27 people in intensive care units (ICUs), including 16 in ICUs in the eastern region. Fifteen of the 27 ICU patients were on ventilators to assist with their breathing.
Kennedy said these numbers fluctuate as people are admitted and released from hospital and admitted and released from the ICUs.
Clarifying comments he made Friday, Kennedy said he might have left the impression that there wouldn't be enough vaccine early this week to continue the school immunization program, but that's not correct.
"The school immunization clinics continued yesterday, along with the public clinics, and we certainly have enough vaccine for our primary school children, and that will continue on Monday (today) and Tuesday," Kennedy said.
The minister said he was briefed by the regional health authorities Sunday and there is still vaccine left in all areas of the province to continue vaccinating identified risk groups this week. He said people can check the regional health board and school board websites for more information.
Kennedy said the amount of vaccine the province will receive later this week hasn't yet been finalized, but it's his understanding the province will receive about 15,500 doses of the adjuvanted vaccine for regular vaccinations and 12,400 doses of unadjuvanted vaccine, recommended for pregnant women.
By Tuesday morning or afternoon, he said he expects to be in a position to identify the next risk groups that will be immunized.
However, he stressed that the province would like to offer immunizations to everyone, but is limited by the limited supply of vaccines.
The minister also commented on ads placed in newspapers by the federal government and Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada's chief public health officer, indicating that this phasing in of the vaccine is part of a greater plan that the federal government has entered into with the provinces.
"That's not correct," Kennedy said. "The province of Newfoundland and Labrador is limited by its ability to deliver the service only upon the amount of vaccine we receive from the federal government. The federal government has, on a number of occasions, reduced the amount of vaccine available," he said. "It is my understanding that the vaccine was to be produced at two million to three million doses per week at the plant in Quebec and that's obviously been reduced. Last week we received 7,500 doses of the vaccine, as opposed to 30,000. So, whatever the comments made by the federal government, they're certainly not reflective of the approach taken in this province."
Because of the limited vaccine, the province has been slow to immunize adults in high risk groups. At the beginning of this month, the vaccine was first offered to youth with compromised immune systems and respiratory illnesses up to 24 years of age and that was expanded last week to 25- to 40-year-olds in the high-risk category.
Kennedy was asked Sunday whether he's concerned that the people who have died in the province didn't have access to the vaccine before they became ill.
"Obviously, I'm concerned any time that anyone dies, but again we're back to the conundrum that I have found myself in from Day 1 as minister of health. When you have limited vaccine, which groups do you vaccinate?" Kennedy said. "Now I can only tell you with all the e-mails I've received, the overwhelming approach which coincides totally with mine is you have to look after our children. From Day 1, I've said we have to look after our children. That doesn't mean that we're ignoring other high-risk groups. In fact, we expanded that category of different chronic conditions last week, but there has to be a choice made."
Kennedy said people have pleaded with him to look at their cases on an individual basis, but there's only so much the provincial government can do.
"What I would say to people, I am certainly open to people, if there's a better way to do this, let me know, but my question for people is, should we do our children first?"
Kennedy said he believes children are in a high-risk group. "The reality is, and again I wish there was an easy answer, but we only have so much vaccine," he said.