November 5, 2009 / 5:15 PM / 8 years ago

Health worker fired for hockey flu shots

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Senior health officials in the Canadian province of Alberta said on Wednesday they had fired an unidentified worker for giving National Hockey League players preferential access to the H1N1 flu vaccine.

<p>Calgary Flames' (from L) Dion Phaneuf, Jay Bouwmeester, Rene Bourque and David Moss celebrate a goal against the Edmonton Oilers during the third period of their NHL game in Edmonton October 8, 2009. REUTERS/Dan Riedlhuber</p>

The controversy boiled over this week when it was revealed that players for the NHL’s Calgary Flames and their families received shots on an exclusive basis one day before the province closed public flu clinics due to a shortage of the vaccine.

“Our policies on vaccine distribution are designed to ensure an equitable distribution of the vaccine to all Albertans,” Alberta Health Services Chief Executive Stephen Duckett said in a statement.

“The special treatment for the Flames and their families is unacceptable to us and contrary to all of our existing protocols and processes. I apologize for this breach of our duty to Albertans.”

Public outrage over the revelations showed that Canadians’ love for a hockey team, even when it includes such franchise stars as forward Jarome Iginla and goaltender Mikka Kiprusoff, only goes so far during a pandemic.

The health agency said it was continuing its investigation and more disciplinary action could be taken.

The flap over the Flames topped a chaotic several days for mass vaccination in the province of 3.5 million residents that started with hours-long queues at makeshift clinics and ended with the abrupt halt to H1N1 shots when far more people than expected showed up for them.

The Alberta authority said it would restart shots for higher-risk people such as young children and pregnant women, but it will keep vaccine from the general public for now.

Reporting by Jeffrey Jones; editing by Rob Wilson

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