Why wasn’t gov’t prepared for flu shot lineups?

By George Brown

The last time I stood in the cold and the rain for something I wasn’t sure I needed was 30 years ago. Star Trek was coming to theatres in the fall of 1979 after a 10-year hiatus from television and while I was curious, I wasn’t sure it would do for me what I wanted it to.

Much like the provincial government’s plan to vaccinate everyone who wanted the shot, Star Trek: The Motion Picture couldn’t match the hype. This pandemic pandemonium is getting a little hard to take.

Canadians have received a contradictory message from health officials and government. A few years ago, when international health officials first saw a pandemic coming, it was War of the Worlds stuff — whoever was left when the flu subsided would be responsible for repopulating the planet. It’s a tough job but somebody’s gotta do it. Then, when it seemed like no one was buying the hysteria, health authorities said, OK, maybe it will be a mild flu for most of us but you should get the shot anyway. The same health message we get every fall.

The federal government has purchased 50 million doses — more than enough to vaccinate every Canadian. It’s just that we’re not all going to get vaccinated on the same day. By the end of this week more than six million of our neighbours will have received the vaccine and that should make the rest of us feel better. The Alberta government expects all of us to have access to the vaccine by Christmas.

It was just a couple of weeks ago that an opinion poll led us to believe that Canadians weren’t too concerned about the H1N1 flu and were ambivalent about getting vaccinated — and then when the vaccine was finally made available we were crashing the doors like it was Boxing Day at an electronics store. No wonder health officials weren’t ready for the lineups.

Canadians finally bought the hype about this flu when Evan Frustaglio, a 13-year-old hockey player in Toronto died from the flu last month. It showed us that healthy young people can die from this flu.

Outside clinics throughout central Alberta, the demeaning process of standing in line for health care was being played out. At best, these 9 to 5 mass clinics cater to the unemployed; at their worst they put us all in position to be bitchy, short-tempered and tired — prime candidates to contract the flu. Why not arrange for around-the-clock clinics so shift workers can get the vaccine without ditching work? Let the Albertans at risk get dibs on the vaccine, the rest of us can wait a few weeks. You could even set it up like the renewal of our license plate tags and take a month or so to get us all. Is there not a reliable mathematical equation that could be applied to determine who is likely to catch the flu and pass it on and make sure those people are offered head of the line status?

Was this best way to distribute the vaccine? If, as we have been assured, there is enough for everyone, why have a first-come first-saved policy? Wouldn’t a more orderly, distribution plan make sense? If pregnant women are at risk, why not have their doctor administer the vaccine on their next visit? If senior citizens are at risk, offer to set up a clinic at the drop-in centre or bingo hall. Health care workers should be able to arrange a time to get their shot but why not have a roving clinic drop by daycare centres to give the flu shot to pre-schoolers.

At the very least, distribute Calgary Flames sweaters to their fans in the lineup so they can be moved to the fast lane.

Of course, the provincial government doesn’t look good. First they had to ramp up the fear and hysteria so we would get the vaccine they had paid for and then they tell us after less than a week of drop-in clinics, they were out of vaccine and then a priority list of high risk groups would be created.

This whole lineup mess is just another symptom of our health care illness. Too many of us have given up personal responsibility for our own health. We look to the government to cure our ills instead of taking better care of ourselves and our children. Do we really need to be told to wash our hands, to cover our mouth when we sneeze?

We have allowed the government to create a health care system based on a treating rather than preventing illness. As we saw last week, the system tends to break down at the point of delivery. We’re not getting value for our money.

What’s wrong with our health care system will never be more transparent than when Albertans are lined up around the block waiting for a flu shot.

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