Editorial: Swine flu? What swine flu?

By Cam Cotton-O’Brien

It’s a good thing Alberta’s government is as level-headed as it is. Otherwise, this whole H1N1 pandemic fiasco could have become really ridiculous, sending the public reeling and costing the province far more than it can afford. But fortunately our government officials, always looking out for our interests as they are supposed to, recognized the world’s fear over a little coughing and sneezing doesn’t warrant the attention it has received.

In a cunning move sure to dispel much of the misguided concern for the disease, Alberta Health Services opened only four H1N1 vaccine clinics in Calgary when the inoculants became available Monday. On Wednesday a fifth clinic opened at the University of Calgary. Many have decried the stupidity of opening so few clinics in a million-person-strong city, but only because they have failed to appreciate the sage reasons behind the decision. It was not merely a cash-strapped provincial government’s attempt to save money and work within the limited confines of an understaffed health care sector that led to the choice. Rather, it was to quell public fear that the government shrewdly chose the path they did.

In full cognizance of the prohibitively long lines opening so few vaccine clinics in the city would cause, the government acutely side-stepped an otherwise sure-to-be-major-headache. By so clearly limiting the public’s opportunity to get vaccinated, the government convincingly communicated there need be no fear of the swine flu. If Alberta Health Services thought it was a serious problem, they certainly wouldn’t proudly state on their website that: “About 4,000 doses were administered at four Calgary mass vaccination clinics within the first 6.5 hours.” As anyone with some basic arithmetic training can infer, that rate is not particularly…err…staggering. But, again, to those utilizing their Alberta public education to even a meager extent, it is obvious Alberta Health Services is passing along the message — admittedly in somewhat cryptic form — that the disease is not volatile enough to worry too much about.

Some may wonder why the government is relying on such a strategy to assure the population that swine flu is not to be feared, instead of openly stating as such. Sadly, this is the unfortunate result of the public’s eroded faith in politicians. It is now necessary to show, not merely tell, the distrustful population that the government seriously believes the situation is not bad. Relying upon actual action instead of mere rhetoric for people to remain calm in the face of the virus, is in this political climate the only way to assuage the public’s fear. Had Alberta Health Services actually instituted an effective vaccination program through local clinics or high-concentration areas like schools, they would have sent the message that H1N1 concerned them seriously enough to vigorously attempt to pre-empt it, even if they had stated at the same time that it was not a major threat. By adopting the opposite policy, they have gotten the message across in the best way they can.

It’s a good thing the provincial government acted as resolutely as they did, otherwise we’d all be running around like a pack of raving hypochondriacs.


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