British Columbia

B.C. man who had rare neurological reaction to COVID vaccine awaiting decision on government support

A B.C. man is one of 774 people who have filed for financial compensation to Canada's Vaccine Injury Support Program, which aims to provide financial support to people found to have experienced a serious and permanent injury as a result of receiving a Health Canada-authorized vaccine.

Julian Scholefield developed a rare neurological disorder 12 days after receiving his second COVID vaccine

A man sitting in a wheelchair in an olive T-shirt in a fenced yard containing a tree and  plants in a planter smiles at the camera
Julian Scholefield suffered paralysis from the waist down 12 days after he received his second dose of a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and was later diagnosed with acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM). (Submitted by Julian Scholefield)

Nearly one year after Julian Scholefield suffered a rare neurological condition that left him paralyzed from the waist down, the Summerland, B.C., man is waiting for acknowledgement his injury was caused by a COVID-19 vaccine.

According to Scholefield, his paralysis came over the course of a few hours on July 25, 2021, just 12 days after he received his second dose of a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Scholefield, 45, first noticed a tingling sensation in his left leg while he was out boating on Okanagan Lake with his family, he said.

"Rather than getting better, it actually progressed worse and went from being just in the left leg to the right leg as well," Scholefield said.

"Within a two-hour period, I ended up paralyzed from really the mid-section down."

A vial labelled with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. In 2020 Canada established the Vaccine Injury Support Program to support people found to have suffered a serious and permanent injury from a vaccine. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Vaccine Injury Support Program

Scholefield is one of 774 people who have filed a claim to Canada's Vaccine Injury Support Program (VISP), which was set up by the Public Health Agency of Canada in 2020 to provide financial support to people found to have experienced a serious and permanent injury as a result of receiving a Health Canada-authorized vaccine.

As of June 1, 26 people have had their claims assessed by a medical review board to determine if there is a probable link between their injury and a vaccine, according to figures listed on the program's website. Some of these claims are still pending further information.

The medical review board has approved a total of eight claims as having a probable link between the injury and a vaccine and that the injury is serious and permanent, including the case of a Lake Country, B.C. man who was awarded financial compensation last month for suffering and loss of employment income. 

Rare neurological condition

Scholefield submitted his claim last October after a neurologist diagnosed him with a myelitic form of acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), a rare condition characterized by an attack of inflammation on the spinal cord that damages the protective covering of nerve fibres.

The onset of the condition can occur up to six weeks following vaccination, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC). The agency has not yet responded to CBC News with data stating how many people have been diagnosed with ADEM following a COVID vaccine. 

Instances of neurological events such as ADEM following a vaccine are extremely rare, according to Dr. Brian Conway, medical director with the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Clinic.

"Unfortunately they occur — very rarely — [from] one in 100,000 [cases] to one in one million," Conway said.

"They are not at all specific to the COVID vaccine. This is something that we've identified as a serious but very rare complication of pretty well all vaccines."

More than 11.9 million doses of the COVID vaccines have been administered in B.C., with health experts noting the risks associated with coronavirus infection far outweigh the risks of vaccination. There have been more than 41,000 deaths associated with COVID-19 in Canada.

Seeking recognition

More than 11 months after his injury, Scholefield is using a wheelchair and has no movement in his legs. 

He has taken a medical leave from work to concentrate on his recovery, which currently involves treatments of chemotherapy in an effort to reset his immune system, he explained, as well acupuncture and treatments from a naturopath and osteopath.

His family has endured significant expenses since his injury, including the cost of his wheelchair and the installation of an elevator in his home so he can get from his first floor entrance to his living space and bedroom. 

"My life has become a daily struggle and my wife and children must provide care and assistance for me," he said.

"I'm paralyzed now, not because of a reckless accident, but because I followed the guidelines of our government and so that validation and recognition is definitely something that would mean a lot to me."

So far recognition of his injury, beyond his team of doctors, has been hard to come by.

Scholefield said provincial and federal government officials have not responded to emails and letters he has written explaining his case.

"To be ignored and feel like you are swept under the rug is really hard, especially after going through something like this," he said.

"That's why I think it is [important] to get recognized by the Vaccine Injury Support Program that this happened and this happened to me because of the vaccine."


Brady Strachan

CBC Reporter

Brady Strachan is a CBC reporter based in Kelowna, B.C. Besides Kelowna, Strachan has covered stories for CBC News in Winnipeg, Brandon, Vancouver and internationally. Follow his tweets @BradyStrachan