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Second person fired by Alberta's health board for giving Flames H1N1 vaccines

CALGARY - Alberta's health board says a second person has been fired for helping set up a private clinic for Calgary Flames players and their families to get the H1N1 flu vaccine.

Alberta Health Services launched an investigation earlier this week into how the professional hockey players got the shots while thousands of Albertans waited in lines that stretched for hours.

The investigation found the health agency was approached by a member of the team's medical staff early last week to see if a clinic could be set up.

The request was forwarded to a more senior staff member, who took it to a supervisor for approval.

The investigation found there was no written record of approval for the clinic, which happened last Friday and doled out about 150 shots to players and their families.

The rules are very clear on who should get priority for the shots, said Roman Cooney, the board's head of communications.

"There is no authority for anybody at Alberta Health and Wellness to use the vaccine in that way."

The most senior health worker involved was fired earlier this week and Cooney said Friday a second staff member has also been sacked.

"Any time there's a suggestion that there's a second set of rules, that's clearly not acceptable to us," he said.

The health agency said no information will be released about the two people who were fired, for privacy reasons, and no further disciplinary action is being considered.

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann said the two staffers fell in the place of Health Minister Ron Liepert, who should be the one to step down for mismanaging the vaccine rollout from the start.

"This minister is hiding behind his staff, which is really a disgrace to Alberta."

At the time the Flames' clinic was held, the Alberta government was allowing anyone who arrived at mass public clinics to be given the shot. The situation created huge lines that stretched for hours and scores of people were turned away.

Shortly after the Flames were given their vaccinations, the government closed down the public program altogether due to a shortage of vaccine. Clinics were re-opened Thursday with strict rules on who would be eligible to get the vaccine.

"There's been so much ambiguity about how this was going to roll out, and who was priority," said Swann.

"Both the premier and the (health) minister initially said everyone is eligible.

"So a staffer that decides to give out vaccine to a group that are influential and proactive, you'd have to say that that was not the right thing to do, but under the circumstances, understandable."

Cooney said the Flames management made the decision to get the shots based on a process they thought had been properly approved.

"The Flames had every reason to believe that the people involved were senior enough to have made that decision," he said. "The team thought it was ... following the appropriate channels."

Team president Ken King declined to comment Friday.

He apologized earlier this week for the team's decision, insisting no one wanted to cut in line ahead of those at higher risk. At the time, the shot was being given to many healthy Albertans who waited in lines at clinics, he said.

He has also said he felt bad that someone had been fired for trying to help the team out.

The Flames' clinic prompted outrage from opposition politicians and even some fans, who said the hockey players should have stepped back and let people such as pregnant women and young children get their shots first.

Cooney rejected suggestions that the fired pair were scapegoats.

"It is a very difficult decision to dismiss employees, but this was a very serious error in judgment."

The Flames aren't the only professional athletes feeling the heat for getting the vaccine ahead of other groups considered at higher risk.

Their farm team, the Abbotsford Heat of the AHL, has confirmed some players deemed as high risk were recently immunized in a public facility by their team doctor.

Dr. Perry Kendall, the B.C. provincial health officer, called the Heat situation "obviously regrettable."

Ontario's health minister promised Thursday to investigate how players with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Raptors got the shots.

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