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No medical exemptions for B.C. vaccine card ‘blatant discrimination’, disabled activist says

Some British Columbians cannot be vaccinated due to allergies to vaccine components
Premier John Horgan and Health Minister Adrian Dix look on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks about the COVID-19 vaccine card set to arrive in mid-September as they discuss details about the process during a press conference at provincial legislature in Victoria, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito Premier John Horgan shows his vaccination card after receiving a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

When disabled writer and policy analyst Gabrielle Peters heard there would be no medical exemptions under the new B.C. Vaccine Card program she was shocked, but not surprised.

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“The way they designed the vaccine rollout is ableist,” she said. “There are people who haven’t been vaccinated because of the way they did this program. There are people who genuinely can’t be vaccinated because of allergies… setting a policy where you don’t have an exemption for them is discrimination. There’s no grey area here — it’s a blatant example of discrimination based on disability.”

Peters is unvaccinated because of her complex medical needs. She has a sensitivity to polyethylene glycol (PEG), an ingredient in both the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines. When Peters went to a vaccine clinic at UBC in Vancouver, she alerted the staff to her medical history and a previous sensitivity to PEG.

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“They went and called a medical officer of health and I sat at the table for about 20 minutes while they were on the phone call. They came back and said ‘if you absolutely insist, we’ll do it, but we’re really reluctant’… They’re the health care professionals. If they don’t feel comfortable that matters to me. I’m not an expert in that way,” she said.

Peters is currently on the waitlist to see an allergist to determine if she can safely take one of the mRNA vaccines without having an allergic reaction, but that wait is expected to take at least four months.

Details released by the province on Aug. 23 indicate that proof of vaccination will only be required for so-called “discretionary” activities like going to ticketed sporting events, concerts, organized indoor gatherings, and indoor dining among other activities.

Peters said that she and many other immunocompromised people have been cautious to avoid those kinds of events throughout the pandemic, but that’s not legitimate grounds for disabled people to be excluded.

“Say somebody can’t be vaccinated and they have been self-isolating for a long time, but they don’t have long left and they want to go attend a dinner with their friends one last time, or some sort of event, now they can’t.”

RELATED: ‘Do our lives count for less?’: COVID-19 exposes cracks in disability aid

Peters is also concerned about the vaccine card being accessible mainly through smartphones. Disabled people in B.C. are disproportionately poor compared to non-disabled people, she said, and many disabled people do not have access to a smartphone or their cell phones are too old to run the new software.

The government has said that there will be an alternative vaccine card for people without smartphones, but Peters doesn’t trust that option will be accessible either.

What concerns Peters the most is how disabled people have been ignored throughout the pandemic.

“We were completely ignored and now we’re completely thrown under the bus because of concerns about other people. How is it that you can make an age-based exemption, but you can’t make a medical exemption?”

Under the Vaccine Card program, British Columbians ages 12 and up must have at least one dose of vaccine by Sep. 13 and must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 24. Full details on how the program will work are expected to be released by the Labour Day long weekend.


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