EDMONTON — 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 this week.
“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.”
People in Calgary spent up to six hours in line at four clinics, while in Edmonton the wait was up to four hours at five clinics that began giving shots Monday.
Doctors’ offices in Edmonton were packed with swine flu victims Tuesday, but most patients were showing relatively mild symptoms.
Schools have also been flooded with calls from parents with sick kids and some coughing students were sent home.
Liepert said health officials quickly realized they needed to take action, so they worked around the clock to come up with a plan.
Over the next couple of days, 11 additional immunization sites will open across the province, including another large clinic in Calgary, he said.
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.
“Finding appropriate staff and training them has been a challenge and continues to be a challenge that we’re working on.”
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.
“I don’t understand what the problem is except for lack of planning and lack of staffing,” he said.
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. “They’ve also ignored the native communities in the North…these are the most vulnerable people.”
Flu shots dominated the daily question period in the legislature.
“This is the largest flu vaccination of its kind in the history of the province of Alberta,” Premier Ed Stelmach told the assembly.
Stelmach later told reporters that people waiting in line were showing their commitment to getting the vaccine.
The premier 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.”