EDMONTON — Alberta Health Services’ latest pandemic response plan says 25 per cent of Albertans will get swine flu this fall and winter and 130 to 400 people will die.
The report released earlier this month said the latest data suggests 875,000 people will become infected during this “second wave” of H1N1 in Alberta.
“It is expected Alberta’s total hospitalizations will range between 3,800 to as many as 11,400 patients, of whom 15 to 25 per cent will require admission to an intensive care unit,” says the plan.
But Health Minister Ron Liepert downplayed these numbers when Liberal health critic Kevin Taft read from the pandemic response plan in the legislature Wednesday.
“What this member is referring to is the absolute extreme situation,” said the minister.
“And to stand in this house and say that somehow the department is predicting that hundreds of people are going to die from H1N1 is not accurate.”
The swine flu outbreak has claimed a dozen lives in Alberta so far and about 200 people have been hospitalized.
But thousands of people are now reporting flu symptoms and hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices are packed with flu patients.
The province began offering swine flu vaccinations this week, but people in Edmonton and Calgary were forced to wait in line for hours — some places up to six hours — to get their shots.
Liepert apologized Tuesday for the long lineups and said 11 more clinics were being added and 400 pharmacists across Alberta would soon be administering the vaccine.
“Across the province we are having obvious signs that the number of cases of H1N1 is increasing,” Liepert told reporters Wednesday.
“All I can say is that the health-care system is coping the best that it can.”
Seasonal flu usually results in about 17 deaths in Alberta, but does not affect nearly as many people, says the report.
Taft says these numbers suggest Alberta’s health care system will eventually be overwhelmed with flu patients.
“Given the mess of the lineups for vaccinations, are they any better prepared at the intensive care units? Because that’s going to hit next week or the week after.”
Liepert faced a barrage of questions in the legislature on the province’s swine flu preparedness. He offered assurances that hospital beds will be available in case there’s a surge of swine flu cases.
He also accused Liberal Leader David Swann of trying to “politicize” the H1N1 pandemic.
“What we intend to do is ensure that as many Albertans as possible get vaccinated so that as few as possible have to use our health care system,” said Liepert.
“Shouldn’t that be what we should all be striving for instead of standing in this legislature and spreading fear?”
The minister also said that 100,000 doses of H1N1 vaccine were administered in the first two days of the province’s vaccination program.
Flu vaccine was also sent to aboriginal communities in the province — enough to vaccinate roughly half their residents, said Liepert.
“I’m told by our chief medical officer that in many cases they’ve already run out, so that’s a good news, bad news situation,” he said.
“They’ve run out, but the good news is they’ve actually vaccinated 50 per cent of their residents.”