Health minister Ron Liepert denies mistakes over flu

Alberta’s health minister denies his government made mistakes in the way it rolled out its swine flu vaccination program, despite an outpouring of public anger and calls for his resignation.

CALGARY — Alberta’s health minister denies his government made mistakes in the way it rolled out its swine flu vaccination program, despite an outpouring of public anger and calls for his resignation.

Due to a national shortage of the H1N1 vaccine, Alberta moved Saturday to temporarily suspend clinics across the province.

Officials rushed to rejig vaccination programs that would target those at high risk for illness and avoid the long lineups that have been causing tempers to fray at clinics in Calgary and Edmonton.

Health Minister Ron Liepert said Sunday it was not a mistake to vaccinate everyone who showed up at clinics during the first week of the campaign, rather than restricting the shot to only those who are at a high risk of becoming severely ill.

“I am not going to accept the word ’mistake’ when the most recent numbers provided to us…are that over 400,000 Albertans have been immunized. (That’s) 400,000 Albertans who won’t need to access our emergency (rooms) and our hospitals,” he said.

He also dismissed allegations by Dr. David Swann, the leader of the Alberta Liberals, that there has been political interference in the decision-making process and rebuffed Swann’s calls to resign.

Liepert said he’s relied on decisions made by senior public health officials, including Dr. Andre Corriveau, the province’s chief medical officer of health.

“They are the chief medical experts and so it would be inappropriate politically for us to change that. I resent those who are in political life who are suggesting that somehow, there was political interference here,” he said.

Swann, who is also a physician, stood outside a closed clinic in Calgary and accused the Stelmach government of mismanaging the province’s pandemic response.

“This closure is evidence this government has no capacity to manage our pandemic. It’s further evidence of negligence, political interference and mismanagement at a high level,” he said.

Alberta’s pandemic plan, which public health officials has had access to for years, made a commitment to vaccinate only high-risk individuals first, Swann said.

But that plan was apparently tossed out the window, perhaps to make political points with the public, he added.

“For some reason this government chose to subvert that and open the gates to everyone. As a result we have the chaos we have today with ambiguous messaging, increasing anxiety. All of it (was) unnecessary.”

Corriveau explained the province’s about-face by saying nobody could have anticipated the manufacturer would run short of vaccine.

Nor did public health officials from across the country anticipate the overwhelming demand from the public for the vaccination, especially after the death of an apparently healthy 13-year-old Ontario boy, he said.

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