Security concerns led to Flames jumping H1N1 shot line, inquiry told



CALGARY - Concerns about privacy, crowd control and enduring long public line-ups fuelled the Calgary Flames jumping the line to get H1N1 shots, an inquiry heard Friday.

Dr. Jim Thorne, a hockey-team physician, testified about the November 2009 queue-jumping that caused a public outcry when it was revealed the players and their families received vaccination shots in a private clinic administered by Alberta Health Services (AHS) nurses.

"It's something we regret doing, but now that the story is out there, hopefully people understand why we did it," Thorne told reporters after he testified.

"If we would have done it again, maybe we would have got in the line-up with security and mitigate our concerns and hopefully it wouldn't have been a big line-up fiasco."

AHS rolled out the vaccine for Calgarians at four public clinics as concerns about a worldwide H1N1 pandemic soared in November 2009.

The demand for vaccine was immense at that time and line-ups were quite long, with some people waiting for a five hours.

Michele Hollins, the inquiry's lead counsel asked Thorne, if he recognized then that getting the private clinic might be "optically an issue."

Thorne said he didn't realize it was going to be an issue until he read in the newspaper about vaccine shortages.

He said concerns were high within NHL that the pandemic could lead to cancelled games.

Thorne told the inquiry that one of his patients was a public nurse giving shots at the Brentwood clinic, one of the four public sites in Calgary.

He asked the nurse for suggestions on how the Flames could get the shot.

The nurse then consulted with her supervisor, which led to an AHS decision to allow the private clinic to happen, Thorne told the hearing.

"It was never my intention to ask for a private clinic," said Thorne.

The vaccine came in large batches with a short shelf-life which led to Flames' families being urged to take the shots along with the players.

About 150 were inoculated at Thorne's clinic with two public health nurses, who volunteered their time, administering the shots.

The two nurses were later fired.

Energy Minister Ken Hughes, who was AHS board chair when the shots were given, was reluctant to call it a "queue jumping."

"I consider it inconsistent with the values of what we are trying to establish as a relatively new organization," he told reporters following his testimony.

Hughes said he looks forward to what the commissioner finds in the inquiry, which resumes on Monday.

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