A staff member has been fired after an Alberta Health Services probe into why some members of the Calgary Flames and their families received the H1N1 shot without lining up at public clinics.
"Disciplinary action has been taken, resulting in the dismissal today of the most senior staff member involved," said a statement released by the health board on Wednesday. "An investigation is continuing and may result in further disciplinary action."
"I think it sends the message that this will not be tolerated," said Alberta Health Minister Ron Liepert, adding that he does not know who the dismissed worker is, or why he or she decided to approve the clinic — held on Friday at an unnamed health centre — for the hockey team.
Flames' farm team vaccinated
The chief provincial health officer in B.C. is looking into how members of the Abbotsford Heat, the farm team for the Calgary Flames, received the H1N1 vaccine on Tuesday.
Vaccination clinics in B.C. are currently administering the H1N1 vaccine to only pregnant women, children under five years old, people with chronic illnesses and caregivers of infants. Doctors, however, can also give the shot to patients, providing that they fall into one of these high-risk groups.
The Heat's spokesman, Dave Sheldon, said some of the players were sick after a recent road trip and were assessed as "high risk." The team's doctor referred them to a clinic where they were inoculated.
"At no time did anyone from the Abbotsford Heat receive preferential treatment, nor did they jump a queue," said Tom Mauthe, the Heat's president and CEO, in a statement on Wednesday.
Albertans waited for hours in line at mass public vaccination clinics last week.
Top officials said they did not know about the arrangements for the Flames organization until Monday.
"The decision to allow preferential access to the Flames and their families was a serious error in judgment on the part of the staff involved," said Stephen Duckett, president and CEO of the board, in the statement.
"The special treatment … is unacceptable to us and contrary to all of our existing protocols and processes. I apologize for this breach of our duty to Albertans."
The province's top doctors said they're not aware of any other groups getting special arrangements, adding that the vaccine is only available through Alberta Health Services.
"I think we're reasonably certain but again, nothing is 100 per cent. So we have taken every precaution we can to control the supply of vaccine and to just ensure that it goes to our clinics," Dr. Gerry Predy, Alberta's senior medical officer of health, said on Wednesday.
The Flames and their doctors requested the vaccination for their members from Alberta Health Services last week based on information available to them at the time, said team president Ken King on Tuesday.
The team would not have chosen to get the shot had they known there would be a vaccine shortage, King added.
Potential provincial audit
Auditor General Fred Dunn said he's considering auditing the planning, implementation and reporting of Alberta's H1N1 immunization rollout.
Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason asked Dunn to probe the province's management of the program after news of the Flames' flu shots.
It's necessary to look into the adequacy of Alberta's pandemic planning and if any vaccination policies were broken, Mason said at an all-party legislative committee meeting on Wednesday in Edmonton.
Times and locations of Alberta's H1N1 clinics are posted on the Alberta Health Services website.
Health officials said they were caught off guard by massive lineups at vaccination clinics in Calgary and Edmonton last week. The demand forced an abrupt suspension of the program, because of a vaccine shortage and overwhelmed health-care workers.
Alberta's vaccine clinics will resume on Thursday only for children older than six months and under five years, and on Friday for pregnant women. Other groups will be added depending on the vaccine supply.
'A rumour a day'
Liepert pointed out there are many rumours floating around about the H1N1 shots.
"If there is something that has been substantiated that needs to be investigated we will. But there's a rumour a day. I mean you guys have all heard the story about my family getting to the front of the line and getting vaccinated. Not true," said Liepert.
"[There are] all kinds of stories. We're not going to chase rumours."
Paul Hinman, the Wildrose Alliance's deputy leader and sole MLA, joined Mason's call for Liepert to resign. Hinman called Alberta's vaccination program a "debacle," adding that a new health minister would help restore public trust.
Liepert gave no indication on Wednesday that he intends to quit.