B.C. patients with rare blood clotting condition after getting AstraZeneca COVID-19 jab fight for exemption
Two people say they nearly died after developing multiple blood clots
Two B.C. residents who developed multiple blood clots after getting their first COVID-19 vaccine are urging health officials to grant patients with the rare condition, called vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT), an exemption from the second dose.
VITT is a rare life-threatening condition that can arise after getting the COVID-19 vaccination with AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. Its website states the condition has not been reported with Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
Squamish resident Melanie Bitner, 47, said she started feeling flu-like symptoms, including a fever, a couple of days after getting her first dose of the AstraZenca COVID-19 vaccine in late April.
About 10 days later, she said she decided to see a doctor when her symptoms went from "bad to worse."
"I thought I was having a kidney infection. The fever continued and I started having really bad pulsing feelings in my back and my kidney area," Bitner told CBC News.
"So I ended up going to a walk-in clinic and they found blood in my urine, which precipitated me going for a blood test."
Bitner said she was immediately rushed to the hematology team at Vancouver General Hospital, where blood tests showed her platelet count had plummeted.
"It was super traumatic ending up in the hospital out of the blue when I've been very healthy my entire life," she said. "I didn't know if I was going to wake up in the morning."
Bitner said doctors found multiple blood clots in her legs and lungs and the experience traumatized her and her family.
"I was making plans for if I didn't survive, I have two teenage children so it was really really scary," she said.
'I started passing blood'
Shaun Mulldoon said he was also rushed to hospital more than two weeks after his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in April, and had to undergo an emergency exploratory surgery at Langley Memorial Hospital.
"The abdominal pains went from being tolerable to getting very severe," he said. "I started vomiting and then I started passing blood."
He said doctors found a blood clot near his liver that was blocking the blood supply to his small intestine.
"I have no large intestine at the moment, it's not connected to anything and I've lost about two metres of my small intestine, and I've been living like that for about the last six, seven months," said Mulldoon.
He said he lost about 60 pounds and he's waiting for his body to stop producing antibodies before doctors can attempt to reconnect his large intestine.
Not eligible for exemption
Both Mulldoon and Bitner say they are fearful of getting the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and have been fighting for months to get an exemption, to no avail.
Mulldoon said when the vaccine passports were introduced in September, he found out from his hematologist that he would not be eligible for a deferral.
"I'm terrified to go get another jab and I don't want to," he said. "I want to take the doctor's advice who is treating me specifically."
Bitner said her hematologist also tried to help her get an exemption due to her condition, but received a response from deputy provincial health officer Brian Emerso, apologizing for the delay and stating that the request is being reviewed.
During Tuesday's COVID-19 briefing, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said an exemption program for people like Bitner is underway.
"We have started a process to be able to get people a valid B.C. vaccine card for the B.C. Vaccine Program with the medical exemption, but it is a slow process," she said.
"I'm just feeling really ignored and alone," Bitner said. "I don't know how long they expect me to put my life on hold, my work on hold, my parenting on hold. I don't understand."
With files from Zahra Premji