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'Borderline medical discrimination': B.C. man to be denied services for vaccine allergy

Last Updated Aug 27, 2021 at 1:00 pm PDT

A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is shown at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Jan. 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

A New Westminster man is one of the very few Canadians to suffer an allergic reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine

Jens Mowatt showed signs of anaphylaxis after receiving first dose, allergist said he couldn't get second mRNA dose

Mowatt says with vaccine passport system, he will be treated the same as someone who refused to be vaccinated

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Jens Mowatt is not an anti-vaccine crusader, but with no medical exemptions to B.C.’s impending vaccine passport system, he may as well be.

Mowatt of New Westminster is one of the very few Canadians to suffer a severe allergic reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine. He says it didn’t take long after his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in May for signs of anaphylaxis to appear.

“It was getting incredibly tight in my throat, incredibly tight in my chest, to the point where I could barely talk,” he described. “The nurse, she wasn’t messing around. She just took me to the back, grabbed an Epipen, and put it right through my pants.”

Mowatt, 26, also needed Epipen injections on each of the following two days. An allergist later told him he could not get a second dose of an mRNA vaccine.

Despite having some immunity to the virus after his first dose, Mowatt will not be able to access non-essential services like restaurants, gyms, indoor concerts, or movie theatres when the province’s vaccine passport system takes effect on Oct. 24.

“With no medical exemptions, I’m now in a situation where I’m going to be treated in exactly the same way as someone who has refused a vaccine entirely, which doesn’t make sense to me.”

Related video: B.C. to implement COVID-19 vaccine card

Serious adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccines are very rare in Canada, accounting for just 0.006 per cent of all doses administered, according to federal government data.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry cited the rarity of these cases on Monday, when she announced there would not be any medical exemptions.

“This is a temporary measure that’s getting us through a risky period where we know people who are unvaccinated are at a greater risk, both of contracting and spreading this virus,” she said.

But for people like Mowatt, this means several months not being able to keep his regular gym schedule or take a date to a restaurant.

“It isn’t right, in my opinion. It’s unjust, and it feels like this is a poorly thought-out policy,” he said.

“It should absolutely be changed before the deadline because it’s borderline, in my mind, medical discrimination. This is not something within my control.”

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Mowatt is considering trying to get a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in a hospital, where there would be quick access to epinephrine to counter another severe allergic reaction.

“It’s really ridiculous that I’m even considering that, given it’s a risk to my life. But that is what I need to do to live a semi-normal life, being able to go to the gym, which is important for my mental and physical health.”

When the province’s mandatory mark order was in effect earlier this year, B.C.’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner clarified that exemptions were in place for those who were unable to wear a mask because of a health condition, physical impairment, or mental impairment.

Business owners were also advised “if a person claims a mask exemption, take them at their word. Proof should not be required.”