The H1N1 flu vaccine was made available to players on the Toronto Maple Leafs this week after all players and staff on the Toronto Marlies, the Leafs' farm team in the American Hockey League, received the vaccine recently because two Marlies players were thought to have contracted the virus, according to sources familiar with the situation.
Leafs officials said some players and staff took the shots, which were made available by the team medical staff in the dressing room after the Leafs played the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre. It is not known how many players had the shot because those questioned yesterday refused to comment.
A spokesman for the Toronto Raptors of the NBA - like the Leafs, owned by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment - said some of their players and staff had also been vaccinated.
Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke refused to comment aside from an official statement released by the team. The Leafs and Raptors spokesmen insisted the teams did not receive the vaccination outside the usual channels and did not jump any lines at medical clinics. They also said the close contact between teammates and opponents plus the heavy travel schedule make infection a high risk for sports teams.
"Any vaccine supplies received were obtained through normal distribution and no preferential treatment was requested nor received," Leafs director of media relations Pat Park said in a statement.
Neither Dr. Noah Forman, the Leafs' medical director, nor Dr. Bruce Topp, the Marlies' doctor, could be reached for comment.
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The H1N1 vaccine is in short supply throughout Canada. It is supposed to be available only to members of high-risk groups such as children between the age of six months and five years, pregnant women, elderly people and health-care workers.
One source said executives and the medical staff of both the Leafs and the Marlies did not act until two players - Marlies forwards Tyler Bozak and Andre Deveaux - were suspected to have H1N1 flu, and a third, Richard Greenop, came down with the regular variety of flu.
The vaccine was made available to the Leafs because forward Jiri Tlusty was promoted to the team from the Marlies last week, while Bozak was ill. Tlusty was returned to the Marlies on Monday but there was concern he could have carried H1N1 from the Marlies to the Leafs.
Interviews with several sources showed that there were no plans by the Leafs' medical staff to vaccinate the players until the problem with the Marlies came up.
Bozak came down with flu early last week. A source said Dr. Topp suspected it was the H1N1 virus but told team officials the only way to be sure was to get the player tested. The only way to do that was to send the player to a hospital and the doctor said there was no sense tying up a valuable hospital bed as long as Bozak was not seriously ill. Bozak was then isolated from his teammates by confining him to his home.
A few days later, Deveaux got sick. Again, H1N1 was suspected, but the doctors did not feel it was serious enough to tie up a hospital bed, a source said. But at this point, the doctors felt it was best to vaccinate the entire Marlies team and staff. Bozak returned to the team yesterday.
It is not clear where the vaccine came from, although team officials insist nothing improper was done. It appears it was administered to the players in their quarters at their home arena, the Ricoh Coliseum.
MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum is also vice-chairman of the board of directors of Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. He did not respond to a request for comment, but Lyn Whitham, the hospital's vice-president of communications, said Mount Sinai did not distribute the vaccine to any sports teams.
After Tlusty spent the past week with the Leafs, the fear that he may have exposed the NHL players to the virus prompted the team doctors to make the vaccination available. However, none of the Leafs questioned yesterday was willing to admit they had a shot.
"We're not going to comment on medical stuff. That's really not our cup of tea to talk about," said Leafs forward Matt Stajan, who also declined to say if the players were ordered by management not to talk about it.
Leafs head coach Ron Wilson said the issue was "an internal matter."
"I'm not going to discuss personal medical situations with anybody," Wilson said.
With a report from James Mirtle