INNISFAIL — The head of Chinook’s Edge School Division is taking aim at the province’s decision not to allow H1N1 flu immunization in schools.
Superintendent Jim Gibbons said he recently spoke with a deputy health officer from Calgary on whether Alberta Health Services would extend its flu clinics to schools. He was told no.
“Our board really has a problem with that,” said Gibbons late Wednesday.
Board chairman Ian Taylor has since written a letter to Alberta Health Minister Ron Liepert, with a copy to Education Minister Dave Hancock, urging them to reconsider.
“We can get large numbers of students vaccinated, with parent permission, in a short period of time,” said Gibbons. “And that leaves parents free to go to a medical clinic of their choice.”
Gibbons said the province fails to recognize that rural parents may live and work in different areas. They face the challenge of leaving work and pulling children out of school to attend a public clinic.
The greatest concern, he said, is that parents will choose to not immunize and that will cause trouble at schools.
Children face higher risk of spreading the disease because they’re in such close proximity with one another, Gibbons said.
Gibbons expressed frustration when he heard a couple of post-secondary institutions, including the University of Calgary, are beginning to hold H1N1 clinics.
“I am wondering why they would be more important than our own children?,” Gibbons said.
So far, absenteeism rates are around normal with the exception of a couple of schools.
Last week, an Olds school had 38 per cent of its students absent — the most so far in the school division. This week, that same school’s absenteeism rate dropped to 20 per cent.
Earlier Wednesday, scores of parents with youngsters waited for several hours in the fall chill outside Innisfail’s first H1N1 clinic.
Although Carol Bayntun of Markerville didn’t have any children with her, she wondered why the province wasn’t immunizing them at schools.
“If it’s done through the school, like their Grade 9 immunization, then it makes it more real to parents — like it is necessary,” said Bayntun.
Hannelore Beach, 70, of Innisfail, retrieved a blanket from her car so she could bear being outside. But she wondered about some frail elderly people and families with young children standing in the cold.
“Maybe they could go to another place,” said Beach, who wanted the vaccine right away because of having pneumonia previously.
Richard Asghar, 36, of Red Deer attended the clinic with his wife and two-month-old child because they thought it would be quicker. Red Deer’s wait was around four or five hours on Monday.
“It would be great if we could wait inside, like a hall,” said his wife Cynthia.
Innisfail area resident Milly Pedersen, 86, had been waiting in line, cane in hand. A couple said they would save her spot while she waited in the warmth.
“It’s no fun,” she said. “I was freezing.”
Chad Jensen of Red Deer grabbed some extra coffee and burgers for those waiting near him.
“The shortage of clinics in Red Deer was a concern . . . we’ve got a newborn that’s two months old,” said Jensen, while his wife and three children waited inside a warm vehicle.
Individuals began lining up at 7 a.m., 90 minutes before the doors opened for the first of five clinics to be held inside the Alliance Church sanctuary.
Theresa Huber, public health manager for the southwest area, counted about 400 people in line around 11 a.m. She told people at the end of the line to expect a three-and-a-half hour wait
“A lot of credit goes to the public for their patience and their understanding — and their consideration of each other as they wait,” said Huber.
Eighteen nurses were busy giving shot after shot. Huber said their mood was “good.”
She also credited volunteers for their hard work, including Wanda Andrews who helped distribute medical forms.
“We’ve maybe had two people complain about standing in line,” Andrews said.
Innisfail now has clinics Nov. 6 from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Nov. 20 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Nov. 25 from 1-7 p.m. and Dec. 2 from 1-7 p.m. All will occur at the Alliance Church.
Red Deer has its next clinic today at Crossroads Church from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. More clinics are scheduled in Red Deer and Central Alberta.
For complete listings, go online at www.albertahealthservices.ca and find the link called “clinics.”
People can also call Health Link Alberta at 1-866-408-5465.