Last weekend, a 36-year-old mom with two young sons died in this province because she was asthmatic and she had the misfortune to become infected with the H1N1 virus. This week, her community and her family are trying to come to terms with the sudden loss of a young woman who maybe, if the province's vaccination program had been a little more aggressive or timely, might be alive today.
At the same time this woman was finding her breathing difficult and thinking she might have caught the virus, the Calgary Flames were lining up with their families to get immunized for the disease. A bunch of young, healthy, presumably non-asthmatic athletes got priority vaccinations in Alberta because...well...because they're hockey players.
Is it just me, or is there a problem with that picture? I've heard the excuses today about how the province of Alberta's health officials thought there wouldn't be a vaccine shortage. And how the Flames players feel they did nothing wrong because they were told the vaccine was available to them and they just showed up for their shots as advised. That's all true, of course. And, although we can criticize the provincial government for exceedingly shortsighted planning in this situation, the players are right. They just showed up when they were told.
What bothers me about this is that none of the Flames officials or players ever thought to question the idea that they should be going to the front of the line for the vaccinations. When they got their shots last Friday, the news was already full of stories about priority groups, possible vaccine shortages and queue-jumping in other provinces. When the Flames got treated, the province was about to announce restrictions on immunization in Alberta because lineups were more than eight hours long and the national vaccine supply was about to drop. I find it hard to believe that nobody either with the team or the provincial government thought to say, "Hey, maybe a team of healthy hockey players and their families shouldn't be moved to the front of the line here."
But, moved to the front of the line they were. While thousands of Albertans, including people with small children, pregnant women and asthmatics, were lining up in the cold for hours at a time to get their shots, the Flames, their wives and kids and presumably anyone else in their households, were ushered into a private clinic to have their needles with a minimum of disruption to their busy schedules. Even if they didn't think to question their right to the shot at this time at all, perhaps someone with the Flames should have asked why hockey players didn't have to wait in line like everybody else.
There's something seriously wrong with our perception of celebrity if guys who chase a piece of vulcanized rubber around an ice rink are accorded that kind of status. Sure, we like to watch them play hockey. But what makes them better than a librarian or a city worker or a mom with little kids? Nothing, except our own adulation and the sense of entitlement it bestows on them. I have no problem with blowing a Saturday night watching these guys do their jobs. But that doesn't give them the right, in what, for some people is a life and death situation, to be accorded special treatment.
I don't know if any other NHL teams got special treatment for H1N1, or if was just the Flames. But I'll bet there are a couple of little boys here in this province who wish their mom might have been as lucky as that bunch of hockey players.