Ont. health units seek ways to shorten flu shot lines

Public health officials across Ontario have put on their creative thinking caps and come up with some very high tech, innovative ways to try to shorten lineups for the H1N1 vaccine.

Public health officials across Ontario have put on their creative thinking caps and come up with some very high tech, innovative ways to try to shorten lineups for the H1N1 vaccine.

Lineups across the province swelled on Thursday in the wake of the provincial government's announcement on Wednesday that the general public — other than infants younger than six months of age — could be given the swine flu inoculation.

 In the London area, for example, the public was kept constantly up to date via the social networking tool Twitter.

That information was badly needed on Wednesday when, just hours after the government made its announcement, London had its biggest day ever.

Within a five-hour window, 6,800 people were vaccinated in four clinics.

The Middlesex-London Public Health unit also sent home lists of suggested clinics with children in both the public and Roman Catholic school systems, said communications manager Dan Flaherty.

The Toronto Public Health unit, meanwhile, updated a list every hour of waiting times on the web for all of its clinics, allowing people the choice of waiting in line at clinics close to them or going further afield to one where they could get in sooner.

Once people arrived at a clinic, they were given numbered tickets to hold their place in line.

 "We know we can immunize about 100-150 people an hour, so if their ticket is over that, they can go off and shop or have a coffee while they wait," said Anne Marie Aikins, a spokeswoman for Toronto Public Health.

"When they come back, if their number is up, they go to the front of the line."

The unit also put pregnant women, who receive the unadjuvanted version of the vaccine, in their own line.

"Every day we come up with new ideas," Aikins said.

Hamilton's public health unit had a telephone recording warning people lineups might be longer.

In Sudbury, elementary students got their shots on Thursday at school.

Other members of the public were told they could make appointments at community health clinics.

Calls for those were steady early in the day, said Lisa Shell, manager of clinical services.

But in Thunder Bay, officials with the District Health Unit said they were no busier than usual. That area began to inoculate the general public last week.

Health Minister joins queue

Even Ontario's Minister of Health, Deb Matthews, planned to wait in line. She was to get her shot at a Middlesex-London Health Unit clinic on Friday.

The province believes it is offering the vaccine to everyone who wants it at the right time, said Ontario Ministry of Health spokesman David Jensen.

Ontario had aimed to have 75 per cent of the priority groups inoculated in the last 3 1/2 weeks, meaning 2.2 million people, he said.

At this point, more than that — 2.5 million Ontarians — have been given the shot, he said.

Ontario is among the provinces holding back doses from one particular lot of the vaccine as the Public Health Agency of Canada reviews reports of a higher than normal number of allergic and anaphylactic reactions associated with it, said Jensen.

The vaccine is being withheld until further analysis is done by the agency and Health Canada, he said.

He said 1,500 doses of that lot of vaccine were sent to two public health units, the Perth Health Unit and Renfrew Health Unit, but were not administered to anyone.

 About 1,000 people received a flu shot at the public health clinic at Toronto's Metro Hall on Wednesday, double the number of the day before, said clinic manager Charlene Bain.

Toronto Public Health did not have figures on the number vaccinated at its clinics on Thursday.

But the line at the clinic was moving fairly quickly Thursday afternoon, with some people only waiting for a half hour to get their flu shot.

Advertising employee Greg Kavander, 45, who was among those standing in line, said he didn't mind waiting until the priority groups got their shots.

"No I didn't mind it at all. Everybody else was waiting and it sounded like they were focusing on the right places, behind the people who need it most first, so that made sense to me," he said.

As she waited in line, Mary Jane Chamberlain, a former public health doctor herself, said she thought the rollout had been handled properly.

"I think they're doing a fine job considering the logistics of everything that has to be co-ordinated and all the various jurisdictions," she said.

There are many other ways to get the shots other than public health clinics.

Vaccinations can be received at 4,200 physicians' offices as well as from family health teams, acute care hospitals, and community and university health centres.