May 1, 2014 3:59 pm

Edmontonians express frustration following measles outbreak

Watch above: After declaring a measles outbreak and telling parents to get their infants immunized, parents in Edmonton answered the call, but their calls were put on hold. Kendra Slugoski explains.

EDMONTON – If you need the measles vaccine or you want to check if you’re fully protected from the disease, expect to hit some roadblocks in Edmonton.

After declaring a measles outbreak Tuesday, Alberta Health Services started adding staff to answer calls to Health Link. But the medical information line is still very busy.

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“I just picked up the phone immediately,” said Amy Cowan, who called to book a vaccination appointment for her baby daughter. “Automatically, when I phoned, it was just busy… It didn’t even get to any phone prompts… I probably tried for over an hour and it just would keep ringing busy.

“I know everyone is trying to do the same thing so I understand why the phones are like that, but it is very frustrating.”

READ MORE: Alberta declares measles outbreak 

With 22 cases of measles now confirmed in the province, AHS also made new recommendations on measles vaccinations. Infants between six months and 11 months are now eligible for a dose, before they get their first standard vaccine at one year.

“The high volume of calls was really good in a way,” said Dr. Marcia Johnson, AHS Medical Officer of Health for the Edmonton Zone, “but it was higher than expected and certainly too high to respond in a timely way to people and they were frustrated. We certainly acknowledge that.”

By Wednesday afternoon, 50 more staff will be answering calls to Health Link, she said.

“The times should be improved today and we will continue to improve them.”

Cowan feels AHS could have been better organized.

“They announce the outbreak and then what?” she asked.

“Some vaccination clinics would have been nice – in place – before the outbreak was announced.”

While several measles immunization clinics have been opened in Calgary and the central region also covered by the outbreak, none have been announced in Edmonton.

READ MORE: Where are the measles immunization clinics across Alberta?

“The situation in Edmonton and Calgary is slightly different,” said Johnson. “It was strongly felt by the people that know the systems of providing immunization to children here in the Edmonton zone that the short appointments in our public health centres for children is the best way to go here.”

She added that the electronic filing systems as well as the facilities are different.

Johnson said Edmonton clinics will have extended hours for evening and weekend vaccination appointments.

Click here to view a list of public health centres in the Edmonton area.

On Wednesday, AHS added more than 2,232 measles immunization appointment openings at public health centres for the period of April 30 to May 2.

Then, for the time period of May 5-10, AHS added 2,790 measles appointment spots at those centres.

On Thursday, AHS confirmed all public health centres are extending their hours and extra appointments are being added as the clinics are filling up.

It says there are still many unfilled appointment slots, and more openings will be added as staff are available.

AHS still recommends making an appointment by calling Health Link (1-866-408-5465).

IN-DEPTH: Alberta Measles Outbreak information page

“This whole episode caught everyone by surprise and I think the province announced the outbreak as a precautionary measure,” said Ubaka Ogbogu, assistant professor at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

“I’m sure they’re doing everything they can to try and respond to the situation and bring extra capacity into the system.”

“But, having said that, I also understand where the parents are coming from,” Ogbogu added.

“If you have to announce an outbreak, you should be ready to deal with the upsurge in requests for immunizations.”

Ogbogu has two young children and is taking extra precautions to protect them from measles.

“We have limited our contact with the outside world, we don’t go to malls, we don’t welcome visitors except when we’re sure they’re vaccinated.”

Meanwhile, after being transferred a number of times, Cowan managed to secure a Wednesday evening appointment at a Mill Woods public clinic for her daughter.

“We do things every day. We go to the park, we take them to the YMCA. And there was just this voice in the back of my head, ‘maybe we should stay home.’ Then, every time a new story came out about where someone who had the measles had been – ‘OK,’ a breath of fresh air – we weren’t there, so we’ll be OK.”

Have you been vaccinated?

Even finding out whether you’ve already been vaccinated can be challenging.

Watch below: Many adults are wondering if they’re protected against measles 

AHS recommends two doses of measles vaccine if you were born in 1970 or later and you haven’t had the disease. They suggests children get their first dose at one year and the second between four and six.

Michelle Johnston, a mother of five, got her shot after her last baby was born.

“It was my doctor who got my blood test and told me that I needed to update it…It’s a big process and it took a few weeks.”

Tracking down your health records can be tough.

Calgary is reporting a 10- to 12-day delay in processing requests. While AHS has different methods to access files in Edmonton, it says there is another option.

“Do whatever you can to find the records,” said Dr. Johnston, “but if you can’t find your records, and you want to make sure you’re protected you can safely have another dose.”

© Shaw Media, 2014

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