British Columbia

Burnaby youth with Down syndrome asks for fast-tracked vaccination against COVID-19

The parents of a 17-year-old with Down syndrome are urging the B.C. government to allow early access to the COVID-19 vaccine. Other advocates say the cohort is small enough to easily be fast-tracked.

'This thing with COVID has got me all worried because it's taking forever,' says Aaron Waddingham

'Disabled people need to have the vaccine quicker,' says 17-year-old Aaron Waddingham, seen here with his parents at their Burnaby home. (Mike Zimmer/CBC)

As B.C. rolls out its COVID-19 immunization program, there are concerns vulnerable populations are being left behind.

On Friday, the premier and health officials revealed its plans for a four phase timeline for the vaccine based on age, which has a family in Burnaby, B.C. pleading for swifter access for their teenage son and others with Down syndrome.

"We think it's a fairly straightforward decision to be made to protect a vulnerable community," said Mike Waddingham.

His 17-year-old son Aaron has Down syndrome, a chromosomal abnormality, which is the most common congenital anomaly in Canada.

The Government of Canada says one in every 750 live born babies in Canada is diagnosed with Down syndrome, which can result in physical, mental, and developmental disabilities. As a result, people with the condition can have complex health and mental health needs.

Waddingham's mother Sue Robbins says he has been rushed to hospital with pneumonia several times. She said she felt helpless watching her son's lips turn blue as he struggled to breathe on one of those occasions.

"When COVID came along and presented primarily as a respiratory disease, that was terrifying to us. No one would want to relive that again," she said.

Vaccination based on age

B.C's approach is to immunize more than four million people against COVID-19 by September, vaccinating the high-risk and most elderly populations by April, before reaching younger adults in the summer.

On Friday, the province broke down the vaccination plan into four phases. Those going first include residents, staff, and essential visitors at long-term care and assisted living residences; people waiting for long-term care; people in remote Indigenous communities and hospital workers caring for patients with COVID-19.

Phase 2, from February to March, includes seniors over 80; Indigenous seniors over 65, Indigenous elders; more health-care workers; vulnerable populations and nursing-home staff.

Phase 3, includes members of the general public aged 60 to 79, and Phase 4 if for those aged 18 to 59.

'Got me all worried'

At 17, Aaron Waddingham isn't even included in the province's vaccination plans based on his age, but he says he wants to be vaccinated as soon as possible so he can get back to school, and back to his routine.

"This thing with COVID has got me all worried because it's taking forever," said Aaron. "Disabled people need to have the vaccine quicker." 

Wayne Leslie, the CEO of Down Syndrome Resource Foundation, says there are approximately 4,000 people with Down syndrome in the province, a small cohort that he says could easily be prioritized. (Mike Zimmer/CBC)

In a letter addressed to Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry earlier this month, the Down Syndrome Resource Foundation appealed to the province to recognize those with the condition as a group with increased risk, and hasten their vaccinations.

Phase 2, please

In part, the letter says individuals with Down syndrome are "at four times higher risk of hospitalization and ten times higher risk of death from COVID-19 than the typical population."

Wayne Leslie, the CEO of the foundation, says there are approximately 4,000 people with Down syndrome in the province, a small cohort that he says could easily be prioritized to be included in Phase 2, which begins in February.

"We're not talking about a number of vaccinations that would swamp the roll out program. It would be a relatively small number," Leslie said.

He's encouraged the foundation's recommendations are being considered by the provincial health office, and he has been told to expect a response.

With files from Cory Correia