EDMONTON — The leader of the Alberta Liberals says the government of Premier Ed Stelmach is to blame for H1N1 deaths in the province.
David Swann says the confusion and chaos during the first week of the vaccination program may have cost lives and the government needs to take responsibility for that.
Swann, who is also a medical doctor, says the government failed to roll out a program that would protect people at high risk of developing complications from the virus.
He wants to know exactly how many people in that category eventually died of the disease, saying they should have been vaccinated first.
A spokesman for Health Minister Ron Liepert says Swann’s accusations will be dealt with in the legislature on Monday.
Alberta Health Services say it may be impossible to determine which high-risk deaths could have been prevented had those people been vaccinated earlier in the H1N1 program.
In the first week of Alberta’s launch of the H1N1 vaccination, anyone who wanted one could get the shot. The result was massive lineups in which people waited for up to six hours.
When a national shortage of vaccine developed, the province suspended all clinics for a few days and then changed its approach and started restricting the shots to those in the high-risk groups.
“Those people who were suppose to be vaccinated,” said Swann, “how many of them have died or are in hospital today because they failed to get the vaccine? That is a fundamental failure of the system when it doesn’t provide that for the most vulnerable.”
Swann said some people may think he is fear-mongering, “but what can you say if someone doesn’t receive a vaccine that prevents disease and ultimately prevents death in high-risk people, and they didn’t get it in the first few weeks?”
Dr. Andre Corriveau, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, took exception to Swann’s remarks, saying that at the beginning of the campaign provincial officials had urged healthy people to step aside.
“I think that’s a very unfortunate comment made by the leader of the Opposition,” he said. “First of all, we were targetting high-risk groups right from the get-go. The only difference was that we were not turning people away or asking for proof.”
Dr. Gerry Predy, senior medical officer of health, also noted the vaccine has a 10-day incubation period before it becomes effective.
“We really wouldn’t expect the vaccine to have had much of an impact on severe illness and death, given the timing in which it was available and the timing in which we’ve seen some of the people acquire the illness.”
On Friday, health officials announced there is now enough vaccine to expand the H1N1 immunization program to everyone.
Predy said the province’s emergency rooms and intensive care units have been less busy, and there’s been less demand at flu assessment centres.
Alberta Health Services will use wristbands to manage any lineups, so people won’t have to wait too long.
Officials say they will be receiving enough regular shipments of vaccine to immunize up to 50,000 people a day.
The plan is to also make the vaccine available through family physicians, pharmacies and post-secondary and employer clinics over the next few weeks.