Some Raptors, Leafs get access to swine flu shots
Some members of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Raptors pro sports franchises have received the swine flu shot, say spokespeople for the clubs.
However, the Leafs said Wednesday that its medical staff obtained the vaccine through "normal distribution channels" and no preferential treatment was sought or received.
"While all professional athletes are considered high risk to exposure and the transmission of the flu due to excessive contact with other players, heavy travel requirements and public exposure, only certain players and staff have received it the H1N1 vaccine," the Raptors said in a statement emailed to the Toronto Star.
"Consistent with other medical information or cases, this information is considered private and confidential."
Ontario has listed six high-priority groups for the vaccine:
- pregnant women
- children between six months and under five years old
- people under the age of 65 with chronic health problems such as asthma or diabetes
- health care workers
- people living in isolated areas
- household contacts and care providers of persons at high risk who cannot be immunized or may not respond to vaccines
"If professional athletes are pregnant, if they have underlying health conditions, if they are children between the ages of six months to under five, if they fall into one of the high-priority groups, they will get vaccinated," Health Minister Deb Matthews told reporters on Wednesday.
"If they do not -- and I suspect the vast majority do not -- they will have to wait just like everyone else."
Access to the vaccine is currently restricted because of tight supplies.
Dr. Arlene King, the province's chief medical officer of health, said Wednesday that the next group to receive priority treatment once supplies of the vaccine improve will be young people from ages 5 to 18.
Priority is assessed based on the consequences a person might face if they contracted the swine flu virus. For most people, swine flu will only cause mild illness. But while 37 people have died in Ontario since April, most of those had underlying medical conditions.
The case of the Raptors and Leafs comes on the heels of a revelation in Calgary that players with the NHL's Calgary Flames had received the swine flu shot even though they didn't meet the priority group criteria.
Alberta Health Services said Wednesday it had fired an employee over the affair. Ken Hughes, chairman of the agency, described the decision to allow players, club management and their families to be vaccinated last Friday as "a serious error in judgment."
Flames president Ken King said Tuesday the club requested the clinic.
Given the risks associated with their sport and the amount of travel the players do it was necessary to get the players vaccinated against H1N1 as efficiently as possible, he said. "We thought we were doing the right thing given what we knew at the time."
Like Ontario, Alberta had been struggling last week with huge demand for vaccination, leading to long lineups.
With a report from CTV Toronto's Tom Hayes and files from The Canadian Press