British Columbians across the province rolled up their sleeves Monday as health authorities began vaccinations for the H1N1 virus, but the process did not go exactly as planned.

Today marks the first day in a staged release of the largest immunization effort in the province's history. This week the H1N1 vaccine will be available to pregnant women, people under 65 with chronic health conditions and people in remote communities, including First Nations and the homeless. It will be available to the general population in coming weeks.

Lineups were long -- and patience thin -- at many B.C. clinics.

Vancouver's Arbutus Mall clinic was overwhelmed by the turnout of people. The chaos resulted in many people being given the shot who weren't eligible yet.

Since people didn't have to show any proof of an underlying medical condition, staff said it was easier to take everyone than turn them away.

"The demographic we were looking for today shall you say, was expanded," Maureen Burke, administrator for the Pacific Spirit Community Health Centre, told CTV News.

The long lines prevented Julie Pongrac from receiving her shot. The clinic, mired with long lines, was only open for two-and-a-half hours.

"I hate the waste of my time and energy," she said.

"They put out a call to the public to show up, and we're willing, it's just frustrating."

Gavin Wilson, a spokesman for Vancouver Coastal Health, blames widespread shortages on a pent up demand for the long-awaited vaccine.

"I think people have been hearing about the vaccine for quite a long time now and it's here and people are eager to get it."


Doctor's officers were also experiencing problems. Although physicians picked up vaccines at Nat Bailey Stadium there wasn't a lot to go around.

Valerie Kroeker, a manager for the City Square Family Practice, said she was given 80 doses for the seven doctors in her office.

"So about 11 and a bit for each doctor. We already have 40 pregnant patients booked this week."

B.C.'s chief medical health officer says he's heard clinics are very busy and is urging people to be patient.

"We are asking healthy people to stand back until we have enough. Give people who need it the benefit first," Perry Kendall said.

Canada has ordered more than 50 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine, which will be dolled out on a priority basis. It will be available to the general public by mid-November.

By the numbers

Despite the mass immunization program, a Strategic Counsel poll taken for CTV News and The Globe and Mail released Sunday found that 51 per cent of Canadians do not plan to get vaccinated.

That is despite the fact that 67 per cent of those polled said they believe the vaccine is safe for adults and 59 per cent said the vaccine is safe for children.

When it comes to those between the ages of 18 to 34 - the highest risk group - the no vote climbs to 64 per cent.

The poll, which questioned 1,000 Canadians between Oct. 22 and 24, suggests most of the country is not overly worried about the H1N1 flu, even if people are taking precautions.

Of the 63 per cent who said they are taking precautions:

  • 97 per cent are washing their hands more
  • 32 per cent are avoiding crowded places
  • 35 per cent are avoiding shaking hands
  • 19 per cent are visiting retail stores less often
  • 11 per cent are avoiding airplane flights

Dr. Rhonda Low answers common questions she is being asked about H1N1

Should I get the shot?

If you've already had H1N1 you don't need a shot. From a public health perspective it's recommended that everyone gets vaccinated against H1N1 but the decision to get the shot is a personal one. You need to weigh your own risk for getting sick.

Overall in your community right now, that risk is highest for young people.

On a more personal level, for example, someone who is travelling has a higher risk of getting sick because he/she would be exposed to more people and jet lagged - so they should consider vaccination. Others may be exposed to people (including children) with health risks. They too should get vaccinated.

This is the type of conversation you need to have with your health care provider, to hear the scientific evidence, review your own risks and sort out what's best for you.

Can Tamilflu prevent H1N1 or provide protection?

Tamiflu (oseltamivir), an antiviral medication, is intended for treatment, not prevention. Even then, it should only be used for those with moderate to severe symptoms or in those with mild symptoms who have a high risk condition. The worry is with mass use the virus will mutate to become resistant to this important flu fighting drug.

Right now, the vast majority of patients are otherwise healthy with only mild symptoms. Tamiflu is not needed because they'll recover well on their own.

How do you know if your infection is more serious?

It's only a very unlucky few who'll have severe symptoms. Doctors at the World Health Organization say shortness of breath is emerging as a sign of potentially critical H1N1 infection.

If you're not improving by the third day it's time to phone a doctor. That third day seems to be the turning point for many people who come down with more severe cases of H1N1.

If any of the following appears in a person with confirmed or suspected H1N1 infection, they should immediately seek medical attention:

  • shortness of breath, either during activity or while resting
  • difficulty in breathing
  • turning blue
  • bloody or coloured phlegm
  • chest pain
  • altered mental status
  • high fever that lasts longer than 3 days
  • low blood pressure.

In children, danger signs include fast or difficult breathing, lack of alertness, difficulty in waking up, and little or no desire to play.

For more answers to pressing questions about Swine flu click here.

To find the H1N1 clinic in British Columbia nearest you follow this link.

With reports from CTV British Columbia's Leah Hendry, Dr. Rhonda Low and Stephen Smart and files from The Canadian Press