As demand for the H1N1 vaccine continues to overwhelm flu clinics across Canada, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty says people shouldn't worry about who's to blame for a countrywide shortfall and instead focus on getting the vaccine to those who need it most.
Ontario health officials, meanwhile, confirmed the province's third H1N1-related death in just over a week. The victim was from the Niagara Falls region.
She died this week, following an outbreak in the region, where 119 confirmed cases of H1N1 have been reported.
Niagara regional health spokeswoman Fiona Peacefull said Saturday the woman had underlying health conditions.
Delivery of the vaccine has been slowed because the manufacturer was asked to make special unadjuvanted batches of the product for pregnant women.
Those deemed to be most vulnerable to the flu are pregnant women, children over six months but under five years of age, health-care workers, caregivers for those who are vulnerable and unable to get the vaccine, people under 65 with pre-existing health conditions, and those who live in remote or isolated communities.
Health officials across the province say the deaths of two Ontario children this week put a human face on the flu and spurred those who might not otherwise have wanted the vaccine into action.
And an Ontario couple said Friday their 12-year-old daughter died after contracting the H1N1 virus, but it has not yet been confirmed.
Mr. McGuinty, speaking at a Liberal party meeting in Windsor, Ont., on Saturday, urged healthy residents to allow high-risk groups to get the H1N1 vaccine first.
After an announcement Friday that Ontario will be allotted around 250,000 doses instead of the usual 720,000, local health clinics will remain open only to people in six high-priority groups indefinitely.
Ontario Ministry of Health spokesman Kevin Finnerty said clinics are turning away those who are not in high-priority groups and nurses are screening lines to weed out healthy people.
Mr. Finnerty added that there would be enough vaccine for everyone in the high-priority groups, and eventually for everyone in the province who wants it.
But with many people off work Saturday following Friday's announcement that supplies would diminish next week, lineups increased in some regions and hundreds of high-risk people continued to be turned away from flu clinics.
Two of four clinics in Toronto shut their doors after being open for a few hours Saturday. And long lines at two local H1N1 vaccination clinics in the Waterloo region forced the clinics to close earlier than scheduled.
Dr. David McKeown, Toronto's medical officer of health, said in the past week officials were not turning people away, and whole families waiting in line were immunized, even those who were not in priority groups.
"We're not going to be able to do that at this point because of the need to ensure the vaccine goes as a priority to those groups who will benefit most from it," he said.
Dr. McKeown said a wait slip system, first implemented Friday, will be the protocol at all future clinics.
The system helps to manage the crowds, he said, and those waiting can leave the line and come back later. A similar system was implemented in Ottawa, where those in line were issued wristbands.
At a clinic in Toronto's east end, thousands waited in line for hours on a rainy and miserable Halloween morning.
Lynn Duncan, 44, was the first in line, arriving at about 4:15 a.m.
"I saw the lineups (on TV) and thought I might as well get it over with," said the mother of two, who suffers from bronchitis.
"This morning's not a hassle. I know it ends at 10 (when the clinic opens). I'm scared. I don't want to be on a ventilator."
It was 33-year-old Curtis Ryan's third attempt to get the flu shot for his three-year-old son, Maxwell. He'd twice been thwarted by long lineups and early closures.
"I'm going to get in line and get it done so I can have the rest of Halloween," he said.
Mr. Ryan, who arrived just before 4:30 a.m. to claim the second spot in line, suggested health officials should have been better prepared for the long queues.
"They say they didn't expect this many people. But anything that kills children, you're going to get people."
Many in the line brought lawn chairs and umbrellas, some dozing as the long wait dragged on.
Some were blunt in their criticism of the flu shot rollout.
"I think it's a debacle," said Julie, 35, who declined to give her last name.
She's 38 weeks pregnant and got her shot a few days ago but was lining up so her two-year-old and husband could be immunized.
"It's embarrassing," she said, looking at the line, which including parents pushing strollers and toddlers playing in the rain.
"These kids are going to get sick trying to get the shot."
Mr. McGuinty said he's disappointed at the shortfall, but he's not blaming Ottawa for the dramatic slowdown in the delivery of the vaccine.
He added that everyone must pull together to do their best under the circumstances.
The Globe on H1N1
Follow us on Twitter: