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How not to administer a vaccine program

By DJ Kelly November 7, 2009

Markham Hislop has a great op-ed piece on his South East Calgary News site right now. He presents his case for why the Alberta Government does not deserve the criticism they are being shellacked with right now over their handling of the H1N1 vaccination program.

If there is one thing I hate it is people being blamed for things they do not deserve blame for. If there is a second thing I hate it is unwarranted hysteria. But in this case I’m going to have to disagree with Markham. The reason Albertans feel like they are embroiled in a Ron Leipert created mess is because we are.

Here’s why:

The reason the Alberta Government is taking so much flak right now isn’t because lineups were long or because we are running out of vaccine or because the public is in a state of hysteria. It is because the Government had a plan to begin with (vaccinate only high-risk cases) and then didn’t stick to the plan (vaccinate everyone). That’s on them and no one else.

Not following their own plan ended up creating confusion. First, beginning in the Legislature. The premier was saying one thing (that their vaccinating everyone) and the health minister was saying another thing (vaccinating only high risk). Then the health minister said the opposite of what he first said. Then he went back to his original story. The only place to determine what is going on is too look at what is actually going on. This everyone agrees on: everyone who was showing up to a clinic was getting a shot. No one was being turned away.

In order to only be vaccinating the high-risk cases, you can’t be vaccinating everyone. That should be obvious.

Around this point it became clear the media has no idea what is going on either and slowly – or quickly if you think a couple days is quick – the public began to feel like the clinics were a free-for-all. This feeling was then compounded by announcements of shortages and it really did become an ‘every man, woman and child for themselves’ rush of humanity to the clinics to ‘get while the getting was good’.

Alberta Health Services continued to oblige by giving everyone who showed up a shot – whether they were high-risk or not.

Then there is the added layer of the long lines created by only having a handful of clinics. Please remember, a handful of clinics was all that was needed to only vaccinate high-risk cases. This was part the plan. When they started accepting anyone and everyone the lineups became long and AHS did not have the capacity to manage those lineups, thereby exacerbating the free-for-all hysteria.

In both these cases the underlying reason for the problem was the Government’s inability to stick to the plan.

This helps put the Calgary Flames vaccination in a different light. Think about it from the Flames perspective. You’re a team doctor, you see everyone being accepted at the clinics and you don’t want to send your players to wait in 8 hour lineups, for time management and public safety reasons. So you call AHS and explain your rationale. They look at the lineups and agree: it is not a good idea to have Flames players waiting in line too. They see everyone is getting the shot so there is no reason to exclude these ‘everyones’ from getting the shot and schedule a separate session for the players and their families.

Now we see the Alberta Government actually having the gall to be criticizing citizens, saying it was their fault the line-ups were long, that things devolved into irrational hysteria, and that we’re running out of vaccine so quickly. This infuriates me. The only thing the public did was show up to get a vaccine shot they were told everyone eventually should get. If you didn’t want them to get it now and you wanted those folks to wait to get the shot THEN WHY DID YOU GIVE IT TO THEM?!

Any parent will tell you that is just reinforcing bad behaviour. And of course the next person will expect to be treated the same.

You’ll notice no one is criticizing the Alberta Government for this week’s clinics. It’s because they had a well thought out plan and are sticking to it. People who are not children under 5 and pregnant woman are being turned away. I applaud the Government and AHS for this. That’s the way it should have been on day one.

The question does have to be asked though: if our Government is incapable of following it’s own instructions on such a straight-forward program how can we trust them to manage more complicated things?

There is one thing that would fix all this – not the minister’s resignation, that won’t do anything – but an apology from the Health Minister for he and his employees not following their own plan and creating a mess of things. The provinces’ chief medical officer has already done this for his part. And again I applaud for the honesty and wherewithal he’s showing now.

But if Ron Leipert won’t offer a heart felt apology and admit his department made a mistake by screwing up on something so fundamental, he should be fired.

PS – Speaking of being fired… even though I can see where things went array as clear as day, MLA Art Johnson offers this gem of a quote: “The government had a plan and stuck with it, but people stood in line who shouldn’t have.” Umm, no you didn’t. And how dare you.