Andre Corriveau Ed Stelmach H1N1 Naheed Nenshi Ron Liepert

albertans deserve clarity on h1n1.

If this week had a title, it could be called Ron Liepert under fire. Alberta’s Minister of Health has succeeded in shifting the media focus away from Premier Ed Stelmach‘s upcoming leadership review as the mixed messaging around the H1N1 vaccination plan have continued to dominate the headlines.

“We’re not asking only those high-risk groups to get the vaccine first. It’s open to all.” – Premier Stelmach (October 30, 2009)

“We encouraged all Albertans to get vaccinated. They absolutely took it up by the thousands immediately,” – Minister Liepert (October 30, 2009)

After spending weeks urging all Albertans to get an H1N1 vaccination, all vaccination clinics were suspended on October 31 due to low supply. On November 2, Minister Liepert wrote a opinion editorial in the Calgary Herald. The opinion editorial contained a number of factual errors, including claims that other provinces had yet to start implementing their vaccination plans. As of October 28, all ten provinces had begun the implementation of their vaccination programs.

Minister Liepert has described Alberta’s H1N1 vaccination program a success, but in the process, he has blamed the shortage on low-risk Albertans who went to the clinics after being told for weeks that they needed to be vaccinated.

“The message has been consistent from Day 1. We have asked only the high-risk Albertans to attend the clinics. That has never changed.” – Minister Liepert (October 31, 2009)

As Opposition Liberal leader David Swann and the editorial board of the Calgary Herald called on Liepert to resign, PC MLAs have begun rallying around Premier Stelmach in an attempt to downplay the effect that the H1N1 vaccination issue could have on his upcoming leadership review.

Four hundred thousand Albertans were vaccinated in one week, this is an impressive number, but it does not appear that Minister Liepert had approved any plan that was beyond ‘first come, first serve.’ After watching a recent video  interview with Minister Liepert, I cannot help but think that he just might be making it up as he goes along.

As Naheed Nenshi recently said on CBC Radio’s Wildrose Forum, the problem is that Minister Liepert is reacting as if this were a political problem, rather than a public heath issue. Minister Liepert has allowed Chief Medical Officer Dr. Andre Corriveau to take the blame in the media, but the buck has to stop with the Minister. It was Minister Liepert’s job to clearly communicate with Albertans and to show leadership in this situation. He has failed and should resign. If he does not resign, Premier Stelmach should fire him.

H1N1 Ron Liepert

ron liepert sending mixed messages on h1n1.

I was hesitant to write about the Government of Alberta’s organization of H1N1 vaccinations because I did not want to make light, or political, of an important public health issue. Tonight, after reading and listening to Health Minister Ron Liepert‘s mixed messages on the H1N1 vaccinations, I cannot help but think that he might just making it up as he goes along.

I suspect that a large part of the communications problem may be Minister Liepert himself. The man is a blunt instrument and his track record of irrational confrontation probably does not make him the best person to be the public face of the fight against H1N1. I would suggest that a gentler face, like Urban Affairs and Housing Minister Yvonne Fritz, a former nurse and veteran MLA, would probably make a better public face for the Government of Alberta’s handling of H1N1. I was impressed with how Fritz’s handled the H1N1-related questions she was asked in Question Period last week.

I want to have confidence that our government will be prepared to deal with the H1N1 situation if it becomes worse. I have confidence in the health care professionals who are implementing the vaccination plans, but Minister Liepert’s mixed messaging is making me believe less so of our elected officials.

(ht to Chris Labossiere, who has also written about Alberta’s H1N1 situation)