British Columbia

Nurse with long-haul COVID and one vaccine dose asks for exemption from vaccination rules

A B.C. nurse who contracted COVID-19 and then had an adverse reaction to her first dose of vaccine wants the province to reconsider its lack of exemptions for the vaccine passport.

Cranbrook nurse was exposed to COVID-19 in March and received her first dose of vaccine in May

Provincial health officials have said there will be no exceptions to the vaccine card policy, which as of Oct. 24 requires proof of two COVID-19 doses for access to restaurants, concerts and other 'non-essential' spaces. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A B.C. nurse who contracted COVID-19 and then had an adverse reaction to her first dose of vaccine wants the province to reconsider its lack of exemptions for the vaccine passport.

Renee Melenka was exposed to COVID-19 in March when she was working as a nurse in Cranbrook, B.C. 

She said she subsequently developed "long-haul" symptoms due to previous autoimmune conditions, ending up with brain fog and extreme fatigue.

After a brief respite, she said her symptoms were aggravated in late May after she got her first dose of vaccine.

With two doctors warning her against a second dose, she believes long-haulers with one dose should be better accommodated at work and in public life.

The province has said the only exception to the vaccine card policy — which as of Oct. 24 requires proof of two COVID-19 doses for access to restaurants, concerts and other "non-essential" spaces — will be for members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Melenka thinks the policy should be re-examined and argues that because she's had COVID as well as one dose of vaccine, she has sufficient immunity. 

"There's information that acknowledges that when someone gets sick with COVID, that's like a first vaccine and even then some with regards to the immunity," Melenka told Chris Walker, host of CBC's Daybreak South

But Dawn Bowdish, Canada Research Chair in Aging and Immunity at McMaster University, says it would be impossible to diagnose someone's immunity to COVID-19 without being part of a clinical study.

"The recommendation is that everyone get the full course," she said. "Because, especially people who've had mild infections and long COVID, they really didn't have a very strong immune response."

Bowdish says over-the-counter antibody tests are sometimes lacking, because even if they can estimate the number of antibodies in the blood, they cannot accurately estimate how those antibodies are bonding with viruses.

"The data is much less clear for people who got infected first and then got vaccinated …[Melenka's doctor], her, we're all making a best guess," she said.

Lack of clarity around vaccine mandates for health workers

There are no accurate counts of those with long-haul COVID symptoms in B.C., or of people who have been vaccinated after contracting the virus.

Melenka says she understands the requirement for a vaccine passport. But with no exemptions for medical conditions, she fears she will soon be unable to attend her children's sports and other activities.

Another concern is the vaccine mandate announced for health-care workers, which comes into effect Oct. 26. The B.C. Nurses' Union has asked for rapid testing options to be made available for those who cannot get two vaccine doses, and Melenka hopes the situation will be clarified soon.

The Ministry of Health has said there will be "rare exceptions" to the vaccine mandate for health-care workers.

Melenka has been on leave from work since March. 

She is asking for accommodations to be made for those who can prove their immunity through certified serology testing, or for similar support to be provided by the province.

"I don't feel that there's a lot of us out there, but I feel that there are enough of us that it does make sense," she said.

Listen | Cranbrook's Renee Melenka shares her story:

Cranbrook's Renee Milenka shares her story and what it was like to go through Covid-19 and deal with the long haul symptoms. Immunologist Dawn Bowdish explains the science behind what happened to Renee and why she is an example of someone who could possibly be exempt from the vaccine card mandate. 16:48

With files from CBC Daybreak South

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