While Albertans were waiting in long lines, and vaccination clinics were being shuttered as a drug shortage hit during the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, a handful of nurses in Edmonton took matters into their own hands.
An inquiry into queue jumping was told on Thursday that public health nurses used their lunch breaks to covertly immunize their family members, bypassing thousands of people waiting up to six hours for their vaccinations at public clinics. It was also told that other nurses either reopened a closed clinic where stored vaccine was about to expire, or ferried shots home to inoculate friends, relatives and acquaintances.
“We were in a crisis,” Susan Smith, an Edmonton nurse who secretly vaccinated 15 people after-hours, told the inquiry. “We were in an emergency situation and we had a very limited resource that we did not want to waste. My feeling was, not to waste the vaccine was more important than anything, really. It concerned me gravely that we may be wasting vaccine that people could use.”
The revelations shine a light on one of the most trying episodes in the history of Alberta Health Services. The much maligned superboard, then newly created, which took over from regional administrators, was under fire for seemingly allowing the Calgary Flames hockey team and people connected to it receive H1N1 vaccinations at a private clinic.
Panic was sweeping the country in the last week of October, 2009, as people clamoured for the vaccine, leading to chaotic public clinics and the heightened demand that contributed to a widespread drug shortage. People were turned away and clinics were suddenly shut, including those in Edmonton, on Oct. 31 as officials waited for more supplies.
Ms. Smith told the inquiry that she vaccinated eight children and seven adults at the closed Bonnie Doon clinic in Edmonton on Nov. 1, 2009, because vaccine that had already been mixed had only a 24-hour shelf life. She didn’t tell anybody what she was doing, but felt she had implicit authorization.
“Because you don’t waste vaccine,” she said, “You don’t waste a precious resource. You don’t waste public money.”