British Columbia

B.C.'s vaccine card for public activities leaves disabled people feeling 'trapped'

As the province announced its plans for a proof-of-vaccine system for restaurants, concerts and other “non-essential” spaces, there are concerns that people with disabilities and those who can’t get vaccinated are being excluded.

Province said there will be no exemptions to the policy, including for medical or religious reasons

Maple Ridge resident Leigh Eliason with her daughter Ava. The province's new vaccine card system would mean Eliason, who has an autoimmune disease and has not been vaccinated over fears about side-effects, will not be able to attend her daughter's theatre performances. (Submitted by Leigh Eliason)

When she heard the news on Monday that British Columbia was introducing mandatory vaccine cards to get into "non-essential" recreational spaces, Maple Ridge resident Leigh Eliason said she felt "trapped" and couldn't breathe.

Eliason has an autoimmune disease — a neuro-vestibular disorder — which she fears puts her at acute risk of side-effects from every COVID-19 vaccine available to Canadians.

According to her, none of the vaccine manufacturers tested their formulations on people with her condition, and doctors are stumped, too. She says the vaccine might re-trigger the worst symptoms of her condition, or inflame other chronic conditions she lives with.

"Most of my family is vaccinated. I'm not. And so I now cannot accompany my own family to any event.... I'm now essentially an outcast in my own family," she told CBC News.

As the province announced its plans for a proof-of-vaccine system for restaurants, concerts and other "non-essential" spaces, there are concerns that people with disabilities and those who can't get vaccinated are being excluded.

Eliason has an autoimmune disease, a neuro-vestibular disorder, and fears that any of the vaccines currently approved in Canada could cause her condition to flare up. (Submitted by Leigh Eliason)

The system goes into effect on Sept. 13, with eligible B.C. residents expected to show proof of one dose by then. By Oct. 24, proof of two doses will be required.

The province said there would be no exceptions to this policy, including people who cannot get the vaccine for medical or religious reasons.

"This is a temporary measure that's getting us through a risky period," said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

"If there are those rare people who have a medical reason that they can't be immunized — these are discretionary events. They will not be able to attend those events through this period of high risk."

But for Eliason, not being able to get into those events would mean she misses out on invaluable family moments.

"My daughter is in theatre, and I've supported her in her joy in theatre and her aspirations to be an actress," she said. 

"I guess I can't watch her shows. I'm her mother, but I will not be allowed to go watch her shows."

Eliason and her daughter Ava with their dog Buster. Following B.C.'s announcement that eligible people would need to be vaccinated to go to any recreational spaces, Eliason says she feels like she will be excluded from her own family. (Submitted by Leigh Eliason)

Policy is 'blatant' discrimination, critic says

Gabrielle Peters, a disabled writer and policy analyst, says the policy constitutes "blatant" discrimination against disabled people.

"You can't just penalize people who for no reason, no fault of their own, simply can't be vaccinated," she said.

Peters also highlighted that the proposed primary method to prove your vaccination status, the smartphone, was a barrier to those who had old phones or no cellphone.

Premier John Horgan, while announcing the policy, said there would be alternative options for those without smartphones, and said the plan had majority support because nearly 75 per cent of British Columbians aged 12 and up are now fully vaccinated.

"That majority wants to know that people they're interacting with have taken the same steps to protect themselves," he said.

Announcing a vaccine card system while simultaneously offloading the responsibility to get vaccinated onto individuals is contradictory, according to Peters.

Peters says she took nearly every single step possible to ensure she would get vaccinated. This included picking a vaccine clinic near a hospital, fixing her wheelchair to get to the clinic and having friends help her get there.

But when she got there, she said, the staff at the vaccine clinic were not comfortable administering the vaccine without an allergist's approval. She is now waiting for an appointment, weeks later, to find out if she's finally able to get her shot.

"As somebody who is high risk around COVID and hasn't been able to be vaccinated, I'm not going anywhere. I'm not going to any of these events," she said.

"But that's not the point. The point is, they're policy makers and they have to be conscious of the human rights precedent they're setting."

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story stated that Premier John Horgan said the plan had majority support because nearly 75 per cent of British Columbians are now fully vaccinated. In fact, nearly 75 per cent of British Columbians aged 12 and up are now fully vaccinated.
    Aug 28, 2021 7:20 PM PT

With files from Zahra Premji

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