By Jodi A. Shaw
From the very beginning of the H1N1/Swine Flu drama, I’ve had zero intention of getting a flu shot. Nevertheless, even I am infuriated by the preferential treatment given to the Calgary Flames players and their families.
I don’t blame the Flames’ medical team for requesting special treatment (it doesn’t hurt to ask, right?) and no doubt they have grown accustomed to it (as many sports teams have), but I’m stunned that the request for a private clinic and access to the H1N1 vaccine — while pregnant women, children under six, and others with compromised immune systems or chronic health conditions waited in line for hours, often outside in the cold — was approved.
Approximately 150 people received the top-secret shots, held at Father David Bauer Arena on October 30th. Next day, clinics all across Alberta were temporarily shut down due to a national shortage of the vaccine. But, hey, who matters more in this country: hockey players or children?
When the clinics reopened, Tim Page stood in one of those slower moving lines with his wife and two kids, aged four and two. They arrived at the Olympic Oval vaccine clinic around 5:30 p.m. and “after an hour my kids had enough so I sent them home with my wife to get bathed and ready for bed,” Tim says. When it got close to their turn, Tim called his wife and she returned with the kids. Well past bedtime, they waited another 40 minutes. Standing in line with two small children was not Tim’s idea of a good Thursday night, especially given that his daughter “knew what was at the end of the lineup.”
“I think the Flames should [have] waited like the rest of us,” he says. “They could [use] a lesson in consideration from the Stampeders’ health staff. They were interviewed on Global and said that they were just like anybody else and would wait. Pregnant moms, elders, and young children deserve it more.”
This isn’t to say that the Flames weren’t in need of the vaccine. It’s safe to assume none of them are pregnant, elderly, or below the age of six, but some have children, which places them in the high-risk category to be vaccinated. Still, they should have waited in line with Tim and his family, just like everyone else. Since there is no documented approval for the private clinic, and zero paper trail regarding the 150 inoculations, it’s pretty clear that the health services employees knew they were violating protocol and that the Flames should have stepped to the back of the line. (Two unnamed Alberta Health Services employees have been fired and the investigation closed.)
A Canoe.ca article suggests we cut the Flames some slack because of their contributions to the community over the years. But using charity to justify special treatment goes against the nature of charity . . . it’s not charity if you ask for something in return. While it is generous of the Flames and other athletic teams to give back to the community, the City of Calgary and its taxpayers forked out $100 million in 1983 to construct the Saddledome, so who owes whom here?
Despite the long wait time, Tim had few complaints about his flu shot experience. “The nurse we received was great. She took her time, made sure everybody was comfortable, and was really sympathetic with my daughter when the tears started coming.” By the time they left, it was 10:30 p.m. “Our nurse had been there all day before the lineups opened. She was tired but not once complained to us about the hours she had put in.”
Now that’s the sort of heroic effort we should be celebrating and privileging in this country, rather than the overpaid exploits of hockey players. The real epidemic in Canada is NHLphilia, which causes ordinary people to lose their heads when it comes to our national game. Where’s the shot for that?