Calgary Flames skip flu vaccine lineups

The province is investigating how some Calgary Flames players and their families received the swine flu vaccine last week at a special clinic with the help of Alberta Health Services.

'We accept responsibility. We apologize': Alberta Health Services spokesman

The Calgary Flames gather at a practice on Tuesday. ((CBC))

The province is investigating how some Calgary Flames players and their families received the swine flu vaccine last week at a special clinic with the help of Alberta Health Services.

"I can't speculate on what happened, but we will have a fuller report very shortly," Premier Ed Stelmach said Tuesday.

The NHL team and its medical staff felt players should get the shots to protect against the H1N1 virus because of the risks associated with frequent physical contact with each other and other teams, as well as their frequent travel, said Flames president Ken King.

"But please be clear, I'm not characterizing them as a higher-degree of risk than some others," King told reporters.

After the team doctors consulted with AHS officials on the "potential commotion and intrusion" that sending the team to one of the public mass vaccination clinics would cause, most players got their shots on Friday at a medical clinic "under the direction of Alberta Health Services," according to a statement released by the Flames.

'Our players did not seek to avoid a lineup. They didn't ask for special attention. They followed the direction of our physicians.'—Ken King, Calgary Flames president

One day later, the province abruptly suspended its clinics because of a vaccine shortage.

Health officials announced on Tuesday that the clinics are resuming on Thursday only for children aged six months to five years, who must show identification to prove their age. On Friday, vaccinations will restart for pregnant woman.

The program will expand to include other Albertans when more vaccine is available from manufacturers.

Flames clinic held before shortage known

But when the provincewide vaccination program began on Oct. 26, Stelmach encouraged all Albertans to get the H1N1 shot. Thousands of Albertans stood in the cold for hours last week to receive their swine flu vaccination.

"I don't think any of the players knew that there was going to be a shortage. And at the point in time where we as players had the option to do it, I think there wasn't that scare yet of not enough," said Flames defenceman Robin Regehr.

The team said the players got their vaccine from the same supply open to Albertans.

An AHS representative offered an apology on Tuesday afternoon, but could not go into details of how the Flames clinic got set up, citing the ongoing provincial investigation.

"We accept responsibility. We apologize," said Roman Cooney, an AHS spokesman in Calgary.

'Failure of leadership'

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann slammed the decision to give the hockey players their shots while Albertans were lining up for hours.

"I think it's again a failure of leadership that we are providing vaccines willy-nilly to whoever has money, whoever has access and when health workers are on the front lines in dealing with this issue," Swann said Tuesday. "When cancer patients, when chronic lung patients, when pregnant women and their children can't get it, this is a travesty of leadership and it's a violation of the basic principles of public health care."

Calgary Flames president Ken King said the team's doctors consulted with Alberta Health Services to offer players the H1N1 vaccine. (CBC)

Dr. Gerry Predy, Alberta's senior medical officer of health, said he learned of the Flames' flu shots from media reports, and was not aware of other groups getting the vaccine privately.

"It’s unfortunate and I can’t defend it," Predy said, adding he can't comment further because of the provincial investigation.

King said the team thought it was doing the right thing based on the "facts available at the time."

"Our players did not seek to avoid a lineup. They didn't ask for special attention," he said. "They followed the direction of our physicians. They followed the organization's direction. We're responsible for those decisions. We accept completely responsibility for that."

Players followed medical advice: Iginla

Flames captain Jarome Iginla said he and his three children — aged one, three and five — received the shot on Friday.

"It was advice given to us and we followed it," he told reporters.

"When we were getting it, the clinics were still open and it wasn't the situation that it is today," said Iginla. "We can see why people are upset."

A spokesman for the Edmonton Oilers said the team has not received H1N1 shots, and there is no plan right now to get them privately.

The Calgary Hitmen, who play in the Western Hockey League, and the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL did not receive any special arrangements to receive the H1N1 vaccine, said representatives of both teams on Tuesday.

With files from Doug Dirks