Lethbridge MP under fire for sharing article on COVID deaths, comorbidities and restrictions
Rachael Harder shared article that says just 10 'otherwise healthy' people have died of COVID in Alberta
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was updated Jan. 11, 2021, to add more comments from Rachel Harder to better reflect her views. We have also provided clearer context and adjusted quotes that when originally published, were potentially misleading. The headline was also changed.
Lethbridge MP Rachael Harder's sharing of an article on Facebook that says only 10 "otherwise healthy" people have died of COVID-19 in Alberta has triggered angry responses from people who say she is showing a lack of compassion and empathy for all who have died of the disease.
The article highlights that all of the rest who died of COVID-19 in the province had pre-existing medical conditions.
The article, published in the Toronto Sun on Nov. 17, points to data released by Alberta Health that outlines the number of pre-existing conditions, or comorbidities, in people who died of COVID-19.
People with three or more pre-existing conditions, such as hypertension, dementia and cardio-vascular diseases, make up three-quarters of the total number of deaths. Those with two comorbidities make up 16 per cent. People with one make up five per cent, while those with no comorbidities make up 2.3 per cent of deaths.
The article says the comorbidity data "tells a much less alarming story," regarding the pandemic than what the public is hearing from media and governments.
MP says it's about protecting the vulnerable
The post has prompted a flurry of comments from people who say Harder's decision to share the article is "callous and ignorant."
Another post read: "How dare you minimize this disease and the threat to all of us."
Harder was unavailable for an interview, but she did respond in an email to questions from CBC News.
She was asked whether she considers people with pre-existing medical conditions to be of less value than those who are considered healthy.
"Starting from the premise that the vulnerable must always be protected, let's be open to studying the numbers and what they mean," was one portion of her response.
Harder did not respond to follow up questions asking her to clarify what she meant by studying the numbers and what they mean.
Harder insisted in her other responses that the premise of the article was that more needs to be done to protect the vulnerable.
"The article states, 'there are a number of persons out there who are facing multiple serious health challenges and that they are particularly vulnerable to dying from COVID-19. Their lives matter and we need to think of ways to better serve them,'" she wrote.
Reaction to post
Suné White, a new mother who lives in Drayton Valley, is one of the people who commented on the Conservative MP's post.
White, 34, is a new mom, who is also a breast cancer survivor with an autoimmune disease. She's in the high risk category for contracting COVID-19 and wonders if Harder thinks less of her because of her pre-existing medical conditions.
"I do take it personally, if she implies that people with pre-existing conditions are less important," said White.
"I'm a contributing member of society. I live healthy, I have an active lifestyle, as do many, many other Albertans. And our lives are just as important as people who are fortunate enough to not have a pre-existing condition."
Last week, Alberta's chief medical officer of health commented on the release of the comorbidity data, suggesting it would be wrong to assume COVID-19 is only a threat to older people with pre-existing medical conditions.
"Severe outcomes are not limited just to those already at the very end of their lives, and it is a mistake to think so," said Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
She mentioned two people in their 30s who died as a result of the virus last week.
"While both had comorbidities, these were not on their own life-threatening," she said.
Dr. Raj Bhardwaj, an emergency doctor in Calgary, says the article implies we should judge people by their pre-existing medical conditions. He feels the need to point out that that is wrong.
"If I run over you in a parking lot with my car, they don't say, 'oh, it's OK, that guy, had high blood pressure … it's fine, he had a comorbidity,'" he said.
"That would be absolutely ludicrous."
White says the article shared by Harder is hurtful to everyone who's been affected by COVID-19.
"It seems as if our officials feel that it's OK that so many people died, simply because they have pre-existing conditions."
"It diminishes our lives, and the grief of those that have lost loved ones to this virus."
Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.