It didn’t take long for Katherine Claassen to realize that something was wrong after she got her first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.
She got vaccinated in January, along with her colleagues in long-term care, who have been prioritized under the British Columbia immunization scheme.
“We were all really excited,” she told CBC News.
But five minutes later, she noticed a rash spreading from her hand to her arm.
“Then my throat and chest started to itch, and then I started to itch and have tears in my eyes,” she said.
Clasen was taken to the hospital and given several doses of epinephrine to treat her adverse reaction to Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. She says doctors are still trying to figure out exactly which ingredient in the vaccine caused this.
Until then, she was medically advised not to receive a vaccine dose. She now fears that she will jeopardize her career.
On August 12, health officials announced that a new public health order will make vaccination mandatory and is an employment requirement for those who work in long-term care and supported living facilities. They will need to be fully vaccinated by October 12. In the meantime, unvaccinated employees will be regularly tested for the virus.
“I don’t want to change my career, that’s what I want to do. And I want to protect my residents,” said Klassen, who works at a facility based in Williams Lake.
Fortunately for Claassen, she may now qualify for an exemption.
BC says there will be “exceptions”
Vaccine mandates have been forced amid rising COVID-19 cases in British Columbia driven in large part by delta-variable confluence and the halt in vaccinations.
As of Monday, there were 5,090 active cases of COVID-19 in British Columbia along with 10 outbreaks in long-term care and assisted living facilities.
“We’ve seen transmission from unvaccinated staff, and it has reinforced the need for protection,” Dr. Bonnie Henry, the county health official said Thursday. “Now we’ve seen with the transmission of the new variables that we need extra protection in this very dangerous situation.”
But a health department spokesman said on Monday that there will be exemptions for those workers who can prove they can’t get the vaccine.
However, these exceptions are likely to be few and far between.
“There are legitimate medical reasons why a small number of people are not vaccinated,” a company spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “In these rare exceptions, employers will work with these employees, their union (if any), to determine how to ensure safe patient care is provided.”
The spokesperson said precautions could include requiring unvaccinated employees to wear a mask at work and regularly testing for COVID-19, using rapid tests.
The BC Hospital Staff Union, which represents more than 50,000 healthcare workers in British Columbia, including more than 20,000 workers in long-term care and assisted living, said it would stand up for its members.
“Employers are legally obligated to house workers who cannot be vaccinated for bona fide medical reasons, or for other reasons protected by human rights legislation such as religious beliefs,” organization spokesman Mike Old wrote in a statement.
Clasen hopes her circumstances will lead to an exemption, while calling on those who can safely receive the vaccine to book an appointment.
She said, “Please vaccinate me.”
The county continues to encourage residents to get a full vaccination.
British Columbians aged 12 and over who have not yet been immunized can register in three ways:
The vaccine is also available at mobile clinics across the county.
In an effort to limit the spread of the virus, the province has reduced the time between the first and second vaccine doses for British Columbia residents.
People are now invited to get their second dose 28 days after the first dose, instead of the previous waiting time of 49 days.