Thursday, November 05, 2009

MLSE and H1N1: Give a Shot, Take a Shot

Much has been made by the media of MLSE arranging H1N1 vaccinations for players from the Leafs, Raptors, and Marlies (the Toronto Star went so far as to claim it sparked a "fury" but all signs point to "not so much" on that call).

The City of Toronto Public Health Unit has been clear in stating that H1N1 vaccines are currently restricted to special populations (children under 5, those under 65 with health conditions, health care workers, etc.). None of the Raptors, Marlies or Leafs fit that description.

But what's missing from the media reports is any sense of context:

  • Are these athletes the only non-priority populations accessing the vaccine?
  • How many non-priority candidates are the clinics turning away?
  • Will clinics refuse to administer the vaccine to people who are not in the at-risk/ targeted populations? (When my son, who is a priority candidate, went in for his H1N1 vaccine, the clinic staff also innoculated my daughter and my wife - neither of whom qualify for the vaccine. One of my aunts, who is over 65 has also been innoculated. I can only presume that because my family members are not pro athletes the news of their innoculation didn't make the papers.)
  • Has the Minister of Health Deb Matthews, or any of her Legislative colleagues who are not priority candidates, had the H1N1 vaccine? What about any of the reporters filing these stories or the editors pushing them?
  • Why are infection rates much higher in the NHL than in the general population?
  • What is the Province of Ontario and Toronto Public Health's policy for closed populations, like the NHL, where there is a prevelance of H1N1? (There are about 690 players in the NHL and by my rough count, at least eight have been diagnosed with H1N1. If that rate of infection were applied to the province of Ontario, there would be over 125,000 cases of H1N1 reported. As of October 24, 2009, the province of Ontario was reporting fewer than 5,000 cases.)

Given the nature of our publicly funded, universally accessible health care system, I can't condone anyone jumping the queue. But it would be a nice change if the media could serve the public a side of context along with the heaping pile of inidignation they're dishing out on this one.

A good start would be asking a few basic questions.


  1. Anonymous9:32 pm

    It's just typical media hysteria-mongering, is all.

  2. I'm also curious about all the non priority members who have been given shots, simply because they were there. Considering every newspaper and media outlet is covering the story of the athletes, surely an article detailing your points above would be a far more unique story than what is currently being reported seemingly every hour.

  3. A lot of likely H1N1 sufferers are being sent home with non-life threatening symptoms. In many locales they are only running lab cultures to determine the presence of H1N1 in those patients who are sick enough to require hospitalization due to inadequate testing facilities and time constraints. Thus it is quite possible, and even likely, that the population suffering from the virus is actually far higher than the stated 5,000 cases by the Ontario Government.

    On the other hand, NHL players are under much closer medical scrutiny by team doctors who have far greater access to labs and testing than the average walk in clinic, thus more of them would be identified.

  4. I think the fact that Tyler Bozak was suspected of HINI and Tlusty was exposed to him while he was sick justifies the inoculation. Especially when these teams are travelling so much - we don't want to spread this any more than we have to.

  5. SBurtch Thanks for the comment, I was wondering about under-reporting as well.

    I know that there are several communicable diseases that rarely get reported properly - pertussis immediately comes to mind.

    Still, the infection rate in the NHL is at about 1.16% while the reported infection rate in Ontario is 0.04%. I don't know if labs/bad reporting could nearly triple the incidence rate. Perhaps.

    Either way, I'm not condoning the actions of MLSE, just asking for a bit more insight and context from the media reporting on this.

  6. Bkblades Many years ago I worked on Ontario's first public flu vaccination campaign. The hot rumour around Queen's Park was that the then Minister of Health had refused to be vaccinated.

    The Press Gallery spent the better part of that fall trying to get the Minister to admit it. It was often the first question in the scrums, but they never managed to pin the Minister down, and it was never reported (would have been a great scoop).

    I'd love to know if the current Minister has had her flu shot (and if not, why not) and if she's had her H1N1 shot (and if so, how dare she!).

    As for the lines in the clinics, I walk by one every single morning and they don't appear to be filled with priority cases. Be nice if a media person walked the lines to find out more about just who's in line and who's gettng the shot...would certainly contextualize the MLSE story and give the public a better understanding of the issue.

  7. DeanoTPS11:00 am

    Great post.

    I get a kick out of how NHL teams getting vaccinated is such a huge travesty, while the fact that the government has failed to get enough vaccines for everybody is getting pushed to the background. Let's see, you are short 1.2 million doses for the high priority segment of the population, and the 20 or so NHL players that may have been vaccinated are the problem? It's like getting mad about spilling water on yourself when you're standing in a downpour.

    It sounds to me like a cheap way for a politician to get her name in the news.

  8. Paul Steckley3:20 pm

    It's the media, what more can be said? Hyperbole and fear-mongering equals increased ratings/readership. The media is blameworthy but equally so is the public. If the number of viewers or buyers didn't increase whenever the media outlets publish these ridiculous stories, the media wouldn't be so quick to push them.

  9. Anonymous2:38 pm

    The "confirmed H1N1" rate for the community will be drastically underestimated as stated in one of the other comments they do not run tests on very many. Also, exposure to someone who is sick DOES not put someone in the high priority group, it is mostly risk of severe complications. Having said all that, just like everything else about this story, them media is playing it up and making it 100x worse than it was. There would be no shortage of vaccines if not for the media freaking people out and trying to make this a bigger story than it is. Lots of non priority people have gotten the vaccination.
    The media should lay off and stop acting like the tabloids and sensationalizing it all.