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Canucks jumped H1N1 vaccine queue, B.C.'s provincial health officer says

VANCOUVER, B.C. - While the focus at Vancouver Canucks practice Thursday was supposed to be on the impending return of sniper Daniel Sedin, much of the attention instead centred around a shot that had nothing to do with pucks.

British Columbia's provincial health officer says members of the National Hockey League team jumped the queue when they received their H1N1 vaccinations earlier this week.

"If they got the vaccine and they weren't in any of the risk groups as individuals then they were queue-jumping," Dr. Perry Kendall said in an interview Thursday.

"I don't know why they queue-jumped because they only had to wait a few days."

The H1N1 vaccine will be made available to all British Columbians on Friday.

H1N1 immunizations in B.C. have been restricted to people over six months of age with chronic health conditions, pregnant women, people living in isolated communities, health care workers, first responders, and healthy children and adolescents between six months and 18 years of age.

Last week, Health Canada gave clinics and doctors across the country the green light to start using doses of unadjuvanted H1N1 vaccine on the general public. But the final decision on when to do so still lies with individual provinces and territories.

When asked about the team's decision Thursday after practice, head coach Alain Vigneault told reporters the Canucks had done nothing wrong.

"It was always our intention that once the vaccine was made available to the public that our players would have the opportunity to take it if they wanted it," he said.

"My understanding is it's been made available to the public. That's all I know."

Canucks general manager Mike Gillis declined to be interviewed.

Similarly, a team spokesperson wouldn't say how many players were vaccinated or if the immunizations were made available to the rest of the team's staff.

The Calgary Flames were heavily criticized last month when players and their families received the H1N1 vaccine while thousands of Albertans waited in lines that stretched for hours.

Two Alberta Health Services employees were eventually fired for helping set up the private clinic.

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 and scores of people were turned away.

Players from the Abbotsford Heat, a farm team for the Flames, also didn't wait their turn.

Kendall said that prompted his office to send a letter to every sports organization in the province.

"We sent a letter to every sports organization asking them to hold on and wait. And the College of Physicians and Surgeons sent a letter to every physician saying follow the guidelines," he said.

Canucks defenceman Willie Mitchell said he chose not to get the vaccine, though eligibility had nothing to do with his decision.

"It's my personal belief that your body's immune system needs to sometimes fight off disease and that's just my personal choice," he said.

"I don't have kids. Other people's situations are much different than mine."

The Canucks haven't played a game since pounding the Colorado Avalanche 8-2 Saturday. Vancouver will play host to those same Avalanche Friday night.

Sedin, who's played only four games this season because of a broken foot, said he won't be in the lineup for that game, but he expects to dress Sunday against Chicago.

Sedin, who led the team in goals last season with 31, took part in the practice Thursday.

"It's exciting to be out there. I didn't feel any pain in the foot," he said.

Sedin appeared ready to return to the team last week but aggravated his injury during practice.

"I had to try it out. It didn't work out. We said all along that if I have some pain, I'm going to rest for a few days and then try it again," he said.

"(Thursday) it felt like normal again."

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