Though no anthrax attack has occurred in Canada, hoaxes and white powder hysteria prompted Canadian Health Minister Allan Rock to order $1 million worth of anti-anthrax drugs, but he ended up with a political headache and a fight with the Bayer drug company.
Rock's move this month to stockpile the antibiotic drug Cipro came after anthrax attacks in the United States set off a flurry of anthrax scares across Canada.
Oct. 12, the day anthrax-tainted mail was sent to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and NBC newsman Tom Brokaw, Rock said that while Canadians may feel "anxious and vulnerable," the risk of an anthrax attack was remote.
Four days later, however, as anthrax scares swept the country, Rock told Canadians he was stockpiling enough anthrax antibiotics to treat 100,000 Canadians.
One day later, it was revealed that Rock's ministry had ordered the nearly 1 million tablets from a Canadian company that manufactures a generic version of Cipro, even though the Canadian company does not have the right to produce its version.
Hamstrung by Canadian regulations, Toronto's Apotex has tried for years to win approval for its cheaper version of Cipro but has been tied up in court battles with Bayer, which holds the patent on Cipro.
Apotex President Jack Kay dismissed criticism of patent infringement, saying if Bayer wanted to sue Apotex, "let them."
The dispute escalated Oct. 18 when Bayer Canada Vice President Doug Grant suggested that Bayer AG, its German parent company, was considering suing the government agency Health Canada for patent violation.
Rock insisted that the drugs were ordered from Apotex only after Bayer told the Canadian government it could not fill its $1 million (U.S.) order. Bayer denied Rock's statement.
By Thursday, the flurry of accusations had begun to fade.
Health Canada released affidavits stating that its officials contacted Bayer on Oct. 15 to double their original order for 399,000 Cipro pills. Though Bayer had already filled the earlier order, the affidavits said Bayer officials told Health Canada "no more product was available" and repeated this statement two days later.
As a result, Rock said, he had no choice but to approach Apotex.
Faced with these affidavits, Bayer officials backed off their dispute with Rock as both sides agreed to a face-saving settlement.
Under the deal, the government will give the generic pills to Bayer for storage, and Apotex will not charge the government for its pill purchase if the drugs are never used.
Rock has also promised to go through Bayer for any future orders of Cipro, which the government can buy at less than $1 (U.S.) per tablet.
Just as the Cipro brouhaha was fading, Rock jumped on the possibility of a smallpox attack by announcing Ottawa was prepared to vaccinate the entire population if necessary.
Since then, the World Health Organization has warned that mass vaccinations could do more harm than good.
The risk of side effects from vaccinations "is sufficiently high that mass vaccination is not warranted if there is no or little risk of exposure," it said.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson has asked Congress for $509 million for 250 million doses of the vaccine. A similar mass vaccination for Canada would cost an estimated $70 million (U.S.).
But the likelihood of using the deadly smallpox virus as a biological weapon is remote, according to the WHO, as only two known samples remain: one in the United States and one in Russia, both kept under secure conditions.