Some Calgarians are concerned a backlog for routine immunizations could put young children at risk.

An outbreak of measles in Calgary, Edmonton and central Alberta has many parents thinking about vaccinations. But even before the outbreak, parents were facing delays of anywhere from four to 16 weeks when trying to book their children for a routine appointment, according to the United Nurses of Alberta.

New mom Michelle Chudoba called to book her baby's first immunization as soon as she brought him home from the hospital. The infant is supposed to get his first shots at two months old, but Chudoba couldn’t get him in until he's almost three months.

"It's a bit concerning to think that a newborn can't even get in to get their vaccinations when necessary," she said. “It’s frustrating because you are trying to do the right thing, but they won’t let you.”

Delays more common

Delays like this are becoming much more common, according to Calgary pediatrician Dr. Peter Nieman. When shots are delayed, babies have a slightly increased risk of developing problems like whooping cough, pneumonia, and even meningitis, he said.

"It's not an ideal situation. The ideal situation is to get the vaccine done at the recommended time: two, four and six months."

Some patients are facing delays of up to three months, he said.

“It's not uncommon, and in fact what's interesting about my job is we see patterns. So it’s becoming more common that we hear that vaccines are going to be delayed. And the reason it’s going to be delayed is not because the parents’ choice, it’s the system that is either not delivering on time for whatever reason or there's some backups."

Nurses want more staff

Jacki Capper, Calgary local president of the United Nurses of Alberta, says they started asking Alberta Health Services (AHS) to address the delays a couple of years ago.

"[I’m] very concerned because the population continues to increase, but the nursing numbers of staff don’t increase and certainly the number of clinics hasn't increased." Capper said.

“We’ve got measles, for example, out right now. So they could be at risk of contracting an illness. Sometimes there’s the risk that parents could get frustrated and not continue the immunizations."

The union is calling for bumped up staffing levels and expanded clinic hours to help clear the backlog.

In Calgary, AHS has offered walk-in clinics for the measles vaccine to help prevent the spread of the disease.

Richard Musto, medical officer of health for the Calgary zone, said wait times for routine vaccinations were creeping up due to the increase in the city's population, but they've made improvements to the appointment system, such as automated reminder calls, and added evening and Saturday clinics.

"At the moment, the wait times are actually much better than they were even a year or two ago. We are stressed right now because of measles, but we are doing our best to make sure that those who are due for their routine immunizations are still able to get them."

He recommends parents book routine immunization appointments well ahead of the date on which their child is actually due. According to his records, if a parent calls two months in advance, the wait times range from zero to 45 days. For a parent who call in wanting an immediate appointment, the wait time is between six to 74 days.