Residents in Alberta's smaller centres want better access to H1N1 vaccine

EDMONTON - Alberta Health Minister Ron Liepert said today hospital emergency wards and medical clinics are experiencing an increase in patients and inquires connected to H1N1 concerns.

The influx is causing some strain, which the province and health board are looking to address.

"Over the couple of days I hope that we will be in a position to implement some strategy that will help alleviate that," Liepert said at the legislature.

As the province's H1N1 immunization campaign entered its third day, dozens of smaller communities in Alberta still don't have access to the vaccine.

Tory MLA Genia Leskiw, who represents a northern Alberta riding, noted residents in Cold Lake and Bonnyville are wondering when they'll get the vaccine.

Liepert said Alberta Health Services, the province's medical board, is working on securing locations for an additional 10 vaccination clinics. A new one opened today in Calgary at the Olympic Oval to serve people who have trouble standing in lineups, including pregnant women, young children and seniors.

The health minister said mobile clinics could also be dispatched to "hot spots" around the province. However, the province's plan for many smaller centres located far from Calgary or Edmonton is to distribute the vaccine through family doctors and nearly 400 pharmacists certified to give the shot.

Liepert said he hopes doctors and pharmacists will begin receiving vaccine supplies next week.

"This is a massive undertaking and there are probably going to be situations where certain areas may not get it as quickly as other areas, but we have to recognize that there are a number of factors involved, including ensuring that they have adequate, trained people to administer the vaccine," Liepert said.

One of the factors is supply. The province expects to get its next batch of vaccines on Thursday.

"There's been a high demand and the manufacturing facility can only manufacture so much and so there is a balance here of supply and demand," the health minister said.

"Our goal should be that by early next week the vaccine should be available throughout the province within reasonable proximity."

The onset of the second wave of H1N1 flu has prompted the Alberta Federation of Labour to call for changes to the province's Employment Standards Code, arguing better protection is needed for workers who follow medical advice and stay home when they're experiencing flu-like symptoms.

The union noted that thousands of workers, particularly those in low-wage, service sector jobs, are vulnerable because they may not have contracts detailing sick-leave rules.

"The employment standards codes in six other Canadian jurisdictions give workers the protections they need," Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said in a statement.

"All of those codes say that workers cannot be disciplined, demoted or dismissed for taking time off work because of short-term illness. The Alberta code, on the other hand, doesn't say anything at all about sick leave."

Employment and Immigration Minister Hector Goudreau said today he's willing to talk to the Alberta Federation of Labour about its concerns, but he doesn't plan to alter the labour code.

"The majority of the contracts out there include sick-leave provisions," he said.

For workers who don't have such contracts, Goudreau encouraged them and their employers to talk about H1N1 plans.

"People should not wait until they're ill to talk to each other," he said.

He also cautioned workers with flu-like symptoms against going to work.

"People need to take care of themselves and they need to make sure they are not affecting their co-workers," he said. "Things could get much worse under those particular scenarios."

Calgary Herald, Wed Oct 28 2009
Byline: Renata D'Aliesio

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