Massive lineups, long delays as thousands crowd clinics for flu shots

Alberta health officials said Tuesday they have been caught off guard with the overwhelming turnout at H1N1 vaccination clinics.

Alberta health officials said Tuesday they have been caught off guard with the overwhelming turnout at H1N1 vaccination clinics.

In Central Alberta, additional staff is being trained to help speed up the process which saw people waiting hours for the flu shot.

On Monday, about 30 health-care staff worked at the Westerner’s Harvest Centre to vaccinate 2,750 people who stood in line for up to four hours.

“They closed lines just after 5 p.m. Everyone in the line at the time did eventually get vaccinated but it makes for pretty late evenings,” said Gerhard Benadé, medical officer of health with the central zone of Alberta Health Services.

The Red Deer clinic, which was to operate from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., didn’t shut down until about 10:30 p.m. in order to get those people vaccinated.

“We thank people for their participation and patience so far.”

Health Minister Ron Liepert says he’s sorry that thousands of Albertans have been forced to line up for hours to get swine flu shots.

“I would express my apologies for having to wait in line,” the minister said Tuesday.

“The overwhelming turnout by Albertans on Day One clearly caught most people by surprise.”

“We administered 38,000 doses of vaccine Monday in these mass clinics. It’s quite remarkable and those front-line workers were run off their feet,” Liepert said.

Over the next couple of days, 11 additional immunization sites will open across the province, including another large clinic in Calgary, he said. The location of the other clinics has not been released.

The next shipment of vaccine is scheduled to arrive Thursday and physicians have been asked to place their orders.

Nearly 400 pharmacists who have been certified to administer the vaccine will also receive their first supplies by early next week.

But the minister said even with the lineups, he viewed the first day of H1N1 shots as an “incredibly successful kickoff” to the vaccination program.

“We need to take a step back and remember that we have this vaccine some two to three weeks earlier than we had anticipated,” said Liepert.

But Liberal Opposition Leader David Swann said the province’s public health branch should have been better prepared.

“We’ve known this pandemic was coming for almost a year and we’ve been planning for the vaccine for almost three months,” said Swann, a former public health officer.

Swann said he found it “shocking” that only nine clinics were open on the first day of vaccinations across Alberta. He questioned why shots were not being administered in schools, malls and seniors centres.

NDP Leader Brian Mason also condemned the health minister for the huge lineups.

“It seems to me that the government has completely botched the rollout of this,” said Mason.

Premier Ed Stelmach said he wouldn’t be rushing out to get his H1N1 flu shot in order to give others a chance to be inoculated.

“Let Albertans get the vaccine. I’m not going to take somebody else’s place in line,” he said.

“Let the number of people that are there receive their vaccine and I’ll receive it at some time.”

The next Red Deer clinic will be held on Thursday at CrossRoads Church from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The vaccine is available free to all Albertans six months and older. It’s particularly important for people at risk of complications from the flu and those in close contact with them to get the shot.

Those most at risk include people under 65 with a chronic illness, pregnant women, and children six months to five years old.

Benadé said clinic staff will try to fast-track people at risk and those with handicaps or health problems at the clinics.

“It may happen that people will see what looks like queue jumping so we do ask that they be patient.”

Benadé said Alberta Health Services is pleased with the turnout at the clinic after media reports of some people planning to ignore the vaccination program due to concerns about the safety of the H1N1 vaccine and the likelihood that H1N1 will be a mild illness for most.

For the locations and dates of other clinics in Red Deer and around Central Alberta, call 1-866-408-5465 or go to www.albertahealthservices.ca

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com

• Click here to visit the Advocate’s new web page dedicated to H1N1 news and information

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