People lined up to receive the H1N1 flu vaccine at a clinic at the Westmount Shopping Centre in Edmonton on Monday.

People in Edmonton were facing lineups as long as three to four hours Monday at clinics offering free H1N1 vaccinations on the first day they became available in Alberta.

Staff at the Northgate Centre clinic told people at the end of their lineup that the waits could be that long Monday morning and suggested they might want to come back another day if they weren't in one of the groups at a high risk of getting the illness.

The lineups started as early as 6 a.m. for the 9 a.m. opening at the clinic at the Bonnie Doon Shopping Centre. By 8:15 a.m., about 50 people were in line.

Richard Garbe, who arrived at 5:55 a.m., wanted to get the shot before flying to Fort McMurray later on Monday.

"I work in a camp with about 2,000 guys and I just want to make sure I protect myself against the flu up there," he said.

It took Ian Colman two hours to get to the front of the line at the Bonnie Doon clinic, much longer than the 45 minutes he was expecting to wait. But Ian Colman, an epidemiologist with the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta, felt it was important to get both himself and his young daughter vaccinated.

"There is nothing more important in preventing disease than people getting vaccinated," he said. "The best thing we can do for ourselves and community is to get as many people vaccinated as possible."

Be patient, health official urges

"We're doing our best to get people through as quickly as possible," said Dr. Gerry Predy, senior medical officer of health for Alberta Health Services. "Again, I would just ask people to have some patience when they come to the clinics."


A line of people waiting to get the swine flu vaccine snakes through the Bonnie Doon Shopping Centre in south Edmonton on Monday. (CBC)

Alberta Health Services will try to get more workers to staff the clinics and could look at extending hours if demand persists, Predy said.

Unlike some provinces, Alberta isn't limiting its initial rounds of flu shots to health-care providers and people in high-risk groups. But Predy suggested people may want to wait a couple of days if they aren't in those groups.

"Take a few days to think about it, get the information. Again, we urge you to really think about getting vaccinated because it's not just to protect yourself, it's to protect others."

Questions in the legislature

Provincial efforts to get the immunization program under way were criticized on the first day of the fall sitting in the Alberta legislature.

"I was startled to see a lineup that went out the door and stretched way around the outside of the building," said Liberal MLA Kevin Taft, who said he tried to get a vaccination himself at the Westmount Mall clinic in Edmonton.

"Hundreds of people were trying to do just what the minister has asked, get immunized, but the organization is clearly not in place for this to succeed."

"For all of Calgary, in a serious pandemic that has been foreseen for half a year, there are only four immunization clinics," said Taft. "And only five in Edmonton. Nine clinics to urgently immunize two million people won’t do the job."

Alberta Health officials are urging everyone over the age of six months to get vaccinated, but are initially giving priority to people at higher risk of suffering severe effects of the flu. These include people under the age of 65 with a chronic medical condition, pregnant women and young children between six months and five years old.

Health-care workers, people in remote communities and caregivers of people in high-risk groups are also encouraged to get vaccinated right away.

People can receive shots at five clinics within the city of Edmonton. In addition to Bonnie Doon and Northgate Centre, vaccinations are also being offered at Westmount Centre, Millbourne Mall and the Rutherford Health Centre. The clinics will remain open as long as the demand exists, Predy said

Some question whether to get the shot

But some people are questioning whether they should get the shot.

"You just don't know what to do," said Yvonne De La Fuente.

As a nursing mother, De La Fuente worries about long-term effects the vaccine might have on her and her nine-month-old son. She said that when she asked her pediatrician for advice, he simply told her it was up to her to decide.

"It makes me feel unsure, because it leads me to believe that they're unsure about the vaccine," she said.

But Howard May, a spokesman for Alberta Health and Wellness, said it's important for everyone to get vaccinated.

"People should rely on the best science that's available and not on unscientific and unpublished reports," he said. "We've got a vaccine that's out there that's going to help people.... Think of the people around you — your family and your friends as well."