Health Minister summoned to meeting with premier over swine flu

Alberta Health Minister Ron Liepert offered few comments Monday after a hastily organized swine flu meeting with the premier and chief health officer.

Alberta Minister of Health and Wellness Ron Liepert

EDMONTON — Alberta Health Minister Ron Liepert offered few comments Monday after a hastily organized swine flu meeting with the premier and chief health officer.

Liepert, who has become a lightning rod for criticism over Alberta’s H1N1 immunization program, said Premier Ed Stelmach was simply looking for a briefing.

“It was an update on what’s been going on and what we’re going to be doing going forward,” said Liepert as he walked away from reporters outside the meeting.

Stelmach cancelled events in Calgary to attend the meeting with Liepert and Dr. Andre Corriveau, Alberta’s chief medical health officer.

Liepert has faced heated criticism over Alberta’s handling of the vaccination program, which allowed anyone to get an H1N1 shot rather than restricting the earliest vaccinations to high-risk groups.

“We’ve always said we’re accountable for it,” he said. “We have vaccinated 400,000 people.”

Corriveau told reporters that Alberta initially decided to encourage high-risk groups to get vaccinated, but there were no restrictions to prevent anyone from getting a flu shot who was willing to stand in line.

“It was a strategy we felt was respectful of people, but over the weekend we realized we had to adjust that strategy,” he said. “And I think every province is doing the same.”

Despite some glitches, the medical health officer said Alberta has been moving quickly to vaccinate people in high-risk groups, including pregnant women, young children and people with chronic health problems.

“We’ve done a lot of the priority groups, like most of the health care workers and a large portion of the aboriginal community, in the north especially,” he said.

Corriveau said no one died of the swine flu on the weekend, but 24 more people were hospitalized.

So far, 14 people have died in Alberta after contracting swine flu and nearly 300 people have been hospitalized.

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