To protect their chronically ill kids, parents want to be added to Manitoba's vaccine eligibility list
'I know that if COVID hits him, I'm going to lose him,' says mom of toddler with serious medical conditions
Parents with children who have serious medical conditions say they want to get a vaccine so they can protect their kids from a potentially fatal COVID-19 infection — but in Manitoba, family caregivers under 40 don't currently qualify.
Kristine and Ryan Rowes provide 24/7 care to their 2½-year-old son, AJ. He has chronic lung disease, pulmonary hypertension, and cerebral palsy. He has a tracheostomy and requires a feeding tube.
"I know that if COVID hits him, I'm going to lose him," Kristine said.
Currently, primary caregivers to a family member at risk do not qualify for a vaccine under Manitoba's eligibility restrictions.
Since Kristine and Ryan are both in their 30s and don't have medical issues themselves, they don't meet any of the current criteria to get a vaccine.
AJ also can't receive the shot, since no COVID-19 vaccine in Canada has been approved for use on children his age (Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine has been cleared for people as young as 16, but the others are limited to adults).
"It's like they haven't taken these kids into account," Ryan said.
Kristine says it feels "like the government doesn't see us."
"At least help us protect our son and all the medically fragile children out there," she said.
The couple said they have done everything they can to keep AJ safe, which also meant stopping home care and taking on all of AJ's care themselves, to prevent the risk of a support worker accidentally infecting their son.
Most home-care workers are currently eligible for the vaccine.
"It is frustrating, considering we basically do the job that these health-care workers would be if they were coming to take care of our son," Ryan said.
The couple says their son's pediatrician wants parents like them to get the vaccine, but there's no exemption for them.
"They're totally ready to give a letter that, yes, these kids are in a very serious and potentially fatal situation if they contract COVID," Ryan said.
There are many children in Manitoba in the same situation, Kristine said.
"There are kids in the Children's Hospital that are still fighting for their lives and they need their parents to visit them every day. What if those parents get COVID?"
Low infection rate in children: province
A spokesperson for the province said data shows there's been a very low infection rate in young children, and there have been no COVID-19-related deaths under the age of two in Manitoba.
"Due to vaccine supply issues and an overwhelming demand from the public to get a vaccination, we've had to make some very difficult decisions" on prioritization, a provincial spokesperson wrote in an email to CBC News.
"We would encourage those primary caregivers, who are age eligible, to book their vaccination appointment."
Some family members of chronically ill children did manage to get a vaccine before eligibility rules changed.
In March, Rebekka and Cody Campbell received a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine as one of the province's "priority groups," since they are household contacts of their son, Damon.
The three-and-a-half-year-old has omphalocele, which means some of his organs are on the outside of his body, and several other lung and heart conditions.
The province later put an age restriction on who could get AstraZeneca following national guidance and concerns over potential blood clots in younger people.
Rebekka said after that, other young parents of children with chronic health issues had their appointments cancelled.
She said if AstraZeneca isn't an option, the province should give family members who directly care for a relative at risk access to the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.
"At this point in time, myself and my husband, we are the only form of protection that our son is going to have from COVID-19. Our son won't be able to protect himself," Rebekka said.