The Alberta government initiated its H1N1 vaccination program on Monday, October 26 with no priority given to high-risk groups. On Tuesday, it opened one clinic at the University of Calgary for high-risk groups only with students, faculty and staff of the university being able to use the clinic after the first 48 hours of service.
To remind people high-risk persons fall under one or more of the following six categories:
- Pregnant women.
- Children from six months to five years of age.
- People who live with children under six months old.
- People under 65 with underlying medical conditions.
- Immuno-compromised people and those caring for them.
- People living in remote and isolated communities.
I myself fall under two of these categories. I have a primary immune deficiency called Common Variable Immunodeficiency and I suffer from additional underlying medical conditions: severe allergies and asthma. Moreover, I am two weeks post-surgery and recently finished a course of antibiotics for treating an infection that developed following surgery.
Having NOT been informed that the province was running out of vaccinations, I chose to wait until I had received my blood infusion (or immunoglobin replacement therapy) on Thursday before braving the H1N1 lines. My reasoning was simple: my immune system is strongest following replacement therapy which I receive every four weeks so I would be more resistant to a virus (of any kind) that I might contract amid the crowed clinics.
Today, I arrived at the so-called high-risk clinic at the Olympic Oval at 10:30 a.m. Once I found the back of the line, a security guard briskly approached me and told me that I could not line up for the vaccine because no more people were being taken. I explained to him that I am at very high-risk and just had a blood infusion yesterday. He rudely told me and others that had begun to come behind me to leave.
I then went to the clinic at the Brentwood Mall. Here, those of us who were past the "cut-off point" were kindly told that we could stay in line but that they could not guarantee that we would receive the shot.
I wished that I had gone to Brentwood first which is closer to my home. I believe that if I had not gone first to the "high-risk" clinic, I would have been in line at Brentwood well before the cut off point.
This afternoon, I was interviewed by CBC Calgary in an attempt to shed light on the dangers for the general public of not prioritizing the vaccination of high-risk groups. By not vaccinating those most susceptible to the flu, we quite simply risk more cases of the flu and increased likelihood of it spreading. Moreover, in the case of persons with chronic illness, they will likely have longer hospitals stays. They may take longer to recover from the swine flu and the underlying conditions that put them at risk in the first place may be exacerbated leading to longer hospital stays and/or more frequent trips to emergency rooms.
I should note that many of the people who receive similar treatments to me can simply not stand in lines. Would you expect a chemo patient whose immune system has been wiped out to stand in line? How about a guy suffering from liver failure?
The Alberta government has failed to take measures to vaccinate the most vulnerable populations and in doing so has put the entire public at risk. It will not only mean less medical space and care for everyone who contracts swine flu, but every person who needs medical attention and hospital care. How will we cope with sports injuries, car accidents, and other medical emergencies?
Vaccinating high-risk populations is much more than compassionate care; it is about a pragmatic and strategic approach to reducing cases of the swine flu; controlling its spread; and reducing its impact on the overall well being of Alberta, including our health care system and our economy.
Dr. Judy MacDonald of Alberta Health Services appears on television asking high-risk groups to come forward. We have and we have been turned away. People who do not fall under high-risk are not staying home and, frankly, it is understandable. People want to feel safe.
The only way that high-risk groups will get vaccinated is by opening more clinics with longer hours. Please call on the Alberta government to open more clinics; earmark a portion of vaccines for high-risk populations; and create a vaccination strategy that is logistically sound and accounts for accessibility issues, including the impossibility of standing in any length of line for some pregnant women and some chronically ill people.
UPDATE: On Global Evening News, Ron Liepert actually had the nerve to blame Albertans who are not "high-risk" for long lines and failure to vaccinate high-risk groups, arguing that the message has been all along that the clinics were to first serve high-risk populations. Really?! It seems to me that the opening of a "high-risk clinic" at the Oval on Tuesday signaled the failure to plan for high-risk groups and sent an implicit message that the other four clinics were open to those who are not in the high-risk category. Indeed, Liepert may want to have a chat with his bud Stelmach who told the Calgary Herald that "many of the waits are due to the fact that the province is giving all Albertans first crack at the shot, not just high-risk groups. He noted in other provinces where long lines haven't been an issue that the vaccine is only to be offered to high-risk groups for now, while the general population must wait."
Have the decency to take ownership, Liepert, and not blame ordinary Albertans who are looking out for loved ones.
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