Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Entitled Much?

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.


Ted said...

Good Morning JT,

I understand the sentiment very much but I think that there are several other factors here which I think need to be considered.

1 They are young men who are specifcally within the group (at least here in the US) of most at risk.

2 They often travel to destinations where the risk may be even greater and therefore have a greater risk of exposure.

3 Because they often are called upon to perform community work they are in the public more than perhaps the average person and therefore may either contract or spread the virus at a great rate than john q public.

4 Because they are at greater risk, then so are their wives and children.

All of these elements play into the decision as well and while no one likes to hear about favoratism, just because you are within an at risk group and given the shot doesn't mean it is.

A young women dying and leaving her children is awful, but sometimes triage is a difficult reality.

Don't blame the young men, the wive or their children or the organization for taking care of their own. That is human nature. If there is anyone to blame in this tradegy it is the poor planning in most countries where they've incited the public to panic and yet failed to deliver their end.

I still enjoy reading everything you write and this is just some food for thought.

Anvilcloud said...

The clinics are a mess everywhere from what I can tell. We lined up for five hours for the grandchildren this week, but others further down the line were still called in before us.

pfhabs said...


-absolutely correct...at a minimum it doesn't pass the smell test and at worse shows a tremendous level of insensitivity to the plight of others less fortunate

-the blame rests with team ownership and management and those in the alberta medical community that thought this was a good idea..although the players could have individually decided not to participate at this time and line up when their turn came around they were essentially ordered by their employer to participate.

-on the surface team leaders could have acted contrary to management wishes and brought most of their colleagues along to their side but it would have taken a large measure of courage to defy Suter to King and without knowing all the discussions that occurred between players and management it's difficult to say conclusively that the players could have acted otherwise than to do as told.

J.T. said...

@Ted: To your first point, sure, young adults are at risk of contracting the virus. However, here in Canada, all provinces have specified children under five, pregnant women and people under 65 WITH existing health issues like asthma as priorities for the vaccine. Young, healthy adults are well down on the list for immunization at the moment. We're still waiting for school kids to be done in most areas. And if Alberta decided to go ahead and vaccinate all healthy adults, that's fine. But the players should still have had to wait in line like everybody else.

To your second point, I think it's safe to say the H1N1 virus is present just about everywhere you go these days, thus the term "pandemic."

And third, I would challenge your point here as well. Is a hockey player who appears at a card signing in the mall at greater risk than the clerk who works in the card store? Or the teacher of the kindergarten class? Or the police officer giving the safety talk at the community centre? We all interact with the public on a regular basis...hockey players no more than anyone else who works in a job dealing with the public. And unless you're a reclusive novelist or self-employed...that covers an awful lot of us.

I agree there's been a lot of confusion around triage and vaccination programs in most jurisdictions. But it bothers me that nobody from the Flames organization thought they should have to deal with the system in the same way as the people who pay to keep them in their privileged lifestyles.

DB said...

I understand people being angry when someone gets much better treatment than them, but the anger is misplaced when it is directed at the people getting better treatment. The anger should be directed at those providing the service.

Getting angry at the Flames only serves to lower the heat on the health care system that failed to anticipate demand, get adequate quantities of the vaccine, provided vaccine to private clinics when the shortage was obvious, and vaccinated anyone who lined up whether they were in a highrisk group or not.

The worst you can say about the Flames is that they were selfish. The worst you can say about the health care system is that its incompetence resulted in death. I know who I want answers from and it isn't the Flames.

J.T. said...

@DB: Point taken. Myself and a friend were having this very debate yesterday. I stood in line with my preschooler and watched people lie about health conditions in order to get the vaccine for themselves. I blamed the people for being dishonest, he blamed the system for not having better checks and balances in the first place. I argued this is supposed to be an honour system and it's surprising so many people seem to be without honour. He argued the health officials were naive to believe people would have honour in the first place, and should have been prepared to police them better once it became clear there would be vaccine shortages. I don't know if I'm more disillusioned with the realization of how little honour there really is, or at the ridiculousness of a system that's purported to be based on it.

Either way, there's no doubt the system should be better. I have a healthy dose of anger for officials who seem to have bumbled this pandemic, from anticipating vaccine supplies to managing the crowds who'd be looking for it. But that still doesn't excuse those who act without honour. Just my naive opinion, I guess.

DB said...

It's not naive to be critical of those who lie about having a medical condition. What is naive is having a system without some checks and balances to catch the liars, especially when fears about severe illness and potential death have been raised for months. There is nothing like fear to bring out the liar in all of us.

V said...

@Ted: Your points have merits, but the Flames should have bought vaccine privately for their program: in the public system there is nothing that differentiates them from others with fewer resources.

Ted said...

JT - pandemic as explained to me only suggests a new viral strain.
It didn't suggest any wider degree of infection than the common flu strain.

I am not a doctor nor wish to be one and it wouldn't be the first time I was wrong with my understanding.

Thanks for the discussion.