I have always had my flu shot. I religiously find the local vaccination clinics and go out of my way to be one of the first people to get the flu shot. Why? Well, I’m one of those At Risk type people having had asthma since birth. I’ve had my flu shot for years and years prior to the shot being covered for all Ontarians by the province.
This year would be no exception to my rule. I was scouring the internet to find all the information I could on the flu vaccination. I learnt that I should first get the pH1N1 vaccination and it would be available to me starting Tuesday, October 27th. Great! Or so I thought.
I was a bit hesitant to go to day 1 of the vaccination clinic. There was only one location and there was quite a bit of hype about pH1N1, to say the least. However, a few friends did go day 1 and they shared their experiences with me via text message and Twitter. What they shared was disturbing.
There were huge line-ups prior to the 10am start time of the vaccination clinic. By 9am a friend estimated there were over 300 people waiting in line with many more coming in. By 11am there was a reported 1000 people waiting in line according to KFL&A Public Health. By noon people coming in were being told to come back another day. People shared with me that they waited 4 to 5 hrs to get a shot and KFL&A Public Health reported the wait was as high as 6 hours.
At approximately 11am I received a message that pregnant women were being greeted at the door by a nurse and brought to the front of the line. This confused me. The person who gave me this message was a person who, like me, fit in the At Risk list of people who should get the pH1N1 shot. At no point was he given the option to be at the front of the line. I was a bit confused why pregnant women were given what I thought was preferential treatment above everyone including other At Risk people. To settle the matter, I called Justin Chenier, Communications Officer for the KFL&A Public Health. He confirmed that pregnant women were brought to the front to be treated and this was done so by the decision of Dr Ian Gemmill. Dr Gemmill made the decision that there were too many risks and complications for pregnant women to wait in line for hours. Pregnant women were given the option to move to the front of the line. However, other At Risk individuals were not given the option to move to the front of the line. I further inquired if the pregnant women were brought to a special waiting area where they could wait. Justin said no. The pregnant women were treated first before all others.
Why was the KFL&A Public Health treating everyone with no priority for At Risk individuals besides pregnant women? Why all this confusion? Well, it could have had something to do with the advertising of the pH1N1 immunization clinic. In every Kingston newspaper, there was an advertisement indicating the immunization clinics for the area. The advert indicated the pH1N1 vaccine would be given to all ages and seasonal flu vaccine was only for 65 and over. I originally found the same advert for pH1N1 last week on the KFL&A Public Health’s website (they have since replaced it with a proper advertisement indicating that this week only at risk people should come to the clinic but I still have my newspapers in the recycling bin). Furthermore, in every interview of immunization staff of the clinic, they stressed that “No one would be turned away” [ You can read an example here http://www.thewhig.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=2149548 ]. If you want a pH1N1 vaccine shot, you can because they have lots to go around. In other words, first come – first served. [ This frustrated mother best sums it up here http://ckwstv.com/index.cfm?page=news&id=1373 ]
On day 1, people in line were assured that 3000 vaccines were allotted for each day of the immunization clinic. Did they reach 3000 vaccinations? The simple answer is no, they did not. According to their own account, KFL&A Public Health gave out approximately 1500 to 1700 vaccines on day 1. Somehow, I doubt they can truly tell us percentages of At Risk group vaccination compared to the general population.
Has Public Health failed Kingston? I think it’s an astounding YES in that regard. Failing to treat all At Risk groups and to be complacent is serious. At no time were people screened in line to see if they were part of an At Risk group. There were no separate lines for At Risk groups. Everyone were treated the same with the exception of pregnant women. They even failed to treat as many people as they wanted to in a day. How can we trust KFL&A Public Health? How can we?
“To err is human”, is a popular phrase. We all have our faults which make us human. To recognize errors and correct them is a trait we learn in life. I’m not convinced that the KFL&A Public Health has recognized their errors nor corrected them. Perhaps I can think of a few suggestions to help them. Let’s see:
- Toronto Public Health has recognized the urgency of treating At Risk groups and has created special immunization clinics for only At Risk groups. These clinics turn away anyone who doesn’t fit into the category giving priority to those in need.
- A consistent message should be priority. The first seasonal flu immunization clinics indicated only 65 and older could get their seasonal flue vaccine. KFL&A Public Health should do something similar for the pH1N1 immunization clinics and stick to that story. They should discontinue advertising to the media they “won’t turn anyone away”.
- With the left over 1000 or so of pH1N1 vaccines that are allotted every day there should be a separate clinic for At Risk groups. Since only 1500 to 1700 vaccines were given out, the left over 1500 to 1300 could be sent to a separate clinic treating only At Risk groups.
I hope KFL&A Public Health does something. I truly do. I, for one, am not holding my breath.