Canada·First Person

I'd like to tell you why I'm ineligible for a vaccine passport

After a severe anaphylactic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine, Codi Darnell writes she is hesitant to get a second dose even though the rest of her family is double vaccinated. The vaccine passport system in B.C., which does not allow for exceptions, makes her feel like a second-class citizen.

I had a severe anaphylactic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine and now I’m hesitant to get the second dose

After a severe anaphylactic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine, Codi Darnell writes she is hesitant to get a second dose even though the rest of her family is double vaccinated. The vaccine passport system in B.C., which does not allow for exceptions, makes her feel like a second-class citizen. (Hailley Furkalo/CBC)

This First Person column is written by Codi Darnell, who had an adverse reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ

Like most Canadians, I was eager for the COVID 19 vaccine rollout  — it was our way out of the pandemic and back to normalcy. At 33 years old, with no reason to be prioritized, I was not first in line. While I waited my turn, I watched the process unfold. First, my husband, who works in health care, got his first dose.

As the age priority system worked its way down the line, my parents, in-laws, friends and siblings followed suit. It was May when I got the text that I was free to go forward and book my own first dose at a vaccine clinic. 

The jab itself was painless. But within 10 minutes of my mandatory post-shot waiting period, my tongue felt thick and tingled as though I had devoured multiple bags of salt and vinegar chips. I quickly lost the ability to swallow and became dizzy.

A doctor then put a shot of epinephrine into my leg as I lay behind the observation curtain of the vaccination centre. And as I lay there, convulsing from the adrenaline coursing through my body, the doctor said, "You'll probably have to have your second dose at a hospital."

Everything seemed to stop at that moment. I blinked, sure that he was joking but also struck by the earnest look on his face that suggested otherwise. I half-grimaced through chattering teeth and said "It's cute that you think I'm going to do this again." That was when the ambulance showed up.

Codi Darnell was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance after an adverse reaction to her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on May 27, 2021. (Codi Darnell)

Four hours and one ugly IV-induced bruise later I was discharged from the emergency room. Exhausted and in a fog of disbelief, I went home, resolved to be a permanently single-vaxxed member of society. 

Not because I'm an anti-vaxxer.

All my other vaccinations are up to date and everyone in my family, from my husband to my siblings, went on to get double dosed against COVID just as planned. But I'm content to be single-vaxxed because I had a severe allergic reaction that required medical intervention.

And, at least in my experiences, we don't often ask people to inject their allergens directly into their bodies. In fact, we actively try to avoid such things, which is why I didn't think having only one dose would become an issue. 

Personally, I am comfortable moving forward with whatever immunity my single dose offered me knowing that, because of my age and overall health, my chances of severe illness and death are infinitesimally small. So when the government of British Columbia announced their plans for a vaccine passport that would not include medical exemptions, I was devastated.

As I read the news release, my kids saw tears gathering in my eyes and wanted to know what was wrong. I explained the vaccine passport and how, without two doses, I would no longer be allowed to do certain things. We wouldn't be able to go to a movie or out for dinner. I wouldn't get to watch their stage performances or go to the gym.

B.C. now requires proof of vaccination against COVID-19 to enter restaurants, movie theatres, gyms and other non-essential activities. (Janella Hamilton/CBC News)

These activities — all deemed "non-essential" by the government — are things that play integral roles when it comes to keeping my mental health in check. Especially through the fall and winter months.

My daughter, at six years old, said, "Don't they know you had an allergic reaction? That's not fair!"

All I could do was shrug my shoulders and agree with her. Because it isn't fair. My body rejected the vaccine. Full stop. It was injected into my arm and my body said "No." It is a reaction beyond my control and I'm being ostracized for it. 

For now, I will be kept from certain social activities. But what if the program expands to include more restrictions? Back during the first wave of the pandemic, there were many other activities and services deemed "non-essential" such as physiotherapy, chiropractic treatments and massages.

As someone who deals with chronic pain due to a spinal cord injury, restricting these services left me with only pharmaceuticals for pain management. Are we headed back to these restrictions as well? And if we are, is it right for them to be barred from someone who cannot receive a vaccine?

Canada intends to roll out a federal vaccine passport for international travel. Ontario, Quebec and B.C. all have their own systems. But British Columbia is the only one of those three to say that there will be no medical exemptions

And even though Ontario and Quebec have said certain exemptions will be made, the criteria are strict and could still allow some who had allergic reactions to fall through the system's cracks. 

As my allergist informed me, the allergic reactions individuals are having to the vaccine are not well understood. My own scratch test (which I also was told is unreliable) came back negative. Even so, I had a reaction two months later to a topical ointment that contained a similar ingredient as the vaccine. However, I would need another test to investigate the vaccine allergy further which, at this point, I am not willing to take because of other health issues related to my spinal cord injury. 

So where does that leave me? My personal health team, the doctors who know me and my history best, say it is reasonable for me to forego the second vaccination with the evidence they have. 

I could attempt a second vaccination under the watchful eye of an allergist. It would require preemptive doses of steroids and antihistamines that would in no way guarantee I wouldn't have another allergic reaction requiring medication and hospitalization. 

Or, I go without the activities that serve my mental and physical health because I don't want to subject myself or my family to the stress and anxiety that would be brought upon by a second vaccination. In short, it leaves me without any good options.

I know that COVID has been difficult for everyone. It's been 18 months of isolation, sacrifice and uncertainty. And I don't know anyone who isn't holding on to some amount of stress and frustration due to the pandemic.

However, while my life is full of people whose opinions on COVID-19 and vaccine passports stretch the entire length of the spectrum, one thing they all agree on is that we need to recognize medical contraindications to the vaccine and allow an individual's health team to approve exemptions to the passport. 

Anything else is discrimination. 

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Codi Darnell is an aspiring memoirist and mother of three from Metro Vancouver. She was named Vancouver Mom’s Top Blogger in 2018 for her blog Help Codi Heal that chronicles her experiences as a mom, wife and wheelchair user.