Alberta is adding 11 new clinics across the province within the next couple of days to help meet the high demand for swine flu vaccinations, Health Minister Ron Liepert said Tuesday.
"I would say to those Albertans who lined up yesterday for several hours, I would express my apologies … for having to wait in line," Liepert said. About 51,000 people received shots across the province on Monday — 38,000 members of the public and 13,000 health care workers.
Of the 11 new clinics, an extra one will be set up in Calgary. He didn't specify where the other 10 will be.
The next shipment of 200,000 doses of the vaccine is expected to arrive Thursday, prompting the province to allow doctors who wish to give the shots in their offices to place orders.
Almost 400 pharmacists who have been certified to give swine flu shots should be able to get the vaccine early next week, Liepert said.
Long lineups continue
Liepert's announcement comes as long lineups continued Tuesday outside clinics in Calgary and Edmonton.
Thousands vaccinated in Calgary and Edmonton
Nurses in Calgary vaccinated 8,064 people against H1N1 at four clinics on Monday. Officials cut off the lineups at 5 p.m. and administered the shots until 11 p.m., three hours after the scheduled closing.
In Edmonton, 8,705 people received H1N1 shots Monday at the city's five clinics. The total sits at 13,579 vaccinations for the Edmonton area. Alberta Health Services is also operating mass immunization clinics in Sherwood Park and St. Albert.
On Tuesday morning, people were again lining up hours before the clinics opened.
People were facing three-hour waits at the clinic in the Bonnie Doon Shopping Centre in Edmonton. There were 2½-hour waits for people in line at the Millborne Mall clinic in southeast Edmonton. At the Avenida mall clinic in southeast Calgary, the waiting time was more than three hours.
Three more people in Alberta have died of H1N1 in the past week, bringing the province's toll to 12, Alberta Health Services announced Tuesday. So far, 198 people in the province have been hospitalized due to swine flu.
All the province will say is that the deaths occurred in Calgary, southern Alberta and the Edmonton area. Dr. Gerry Predy, the senior medical officer of health for Alberta Health Services, refused to release any details about the ages or genders of the people involved, citing privacy concerns.
On Monday, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Andre Corriveau, said early approval of the swine flu vaccine meant Alberta health officials had to scramble to organize vaccination clinics.
"We didn't expect this vaccine until the second week of November, so it's only late last week that we heard that the vaccine had been approved by Health Canada," chief medical officer of health Dr. Andre Corriveau said on CBC Radio's Wildrose on Monday.
"And I think it was quite an amazing feat over Friday and over the weekend that [Alberta Health Services] was able to train their staff and set up those clinics. And now they're just getting started. So let's give it a few days before we criticize the approach that's being used."
Unlike other provinces, Alberta is not giving priority to high-risk groups including children and people with chronic conditions, prompting criticism that vulnerable people are spending hours in lineups unnecessarily.
"The children, older people, people who have chronic illnesses, those are the people who aren't going to be able to stand in line," Calgary physician Dr. Penina Krongold told Corriveau when she called in to speak to him on CBC Radio's Wildrose.
While health officials and staff at the clinics were telling people in low-risk groups to come back another day, that isn't realistic, Krongold said.
"People who've been standing in line for three hours are not going to get back into their car and drive away," she said.
Vaccine access questioned
Access to the vaccine was also raised by the Opposition at the Alberta legislature during Monday's question period.
"For all of Calgary, in a serious pandemic that has been foreseen for half a year, there are only four immunization clinics, and only five in Edmonton," said Liberal MLA Kevin Taft, who tried to get a shot at a clinic in Edmonton Monday.
"Nine clinics to urgently immunize two million people won’t do the job."
The initial number of clinics was based on fact the province was given 400,000 doses of the vaccine to start its program, Corriveau said.
Dr. Gerry Predy, the senior medical officer of health for Alberta Health Services, acknowledged during an interview with CBC News on Tuesday that the vaccination program had to be improved and streamlined.
"[We're] certainly looking at getting more staff, expanding the hours, and in some cases if possible, we will be looking to open more sites or more clinic times."