Shortly after B.C.’s vaccine passport system was announced, Dr. Shane Barclay said, the requests for medical letters for vaccine exemptions started to come in.
“It took quite a bit of time to cover the reasons why and convince people they didn’t meet the criteria,” said Barclay, a general practitioner and medical director at Sun Peaks Community Health Centre.
In a letter to his patients this week, Barclay said no exemption letters will be written unless they met the criteria set out by health authorities.
“A medical legal exemption letter for COVID is a medical legal letter. If I’m writing it knowing it is not true, technically, that’s fraud,” Barclay explained.
The medical criteria for vaccine exemptions are being age 11 or younger, having received a vaccination for something else within two weeks (so you’d have to wait two weeks to get a COVID-19 vaccine), or having a documented history of severe allergic reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine or one of its main ingredients, according to Barclay.
“The two constituents that ‘may’ be responsible for COVID vaccine allergic reactions (which occur in two to three per million cases – which is less than the risk of being hit by lightning) are one of the products found in a laxative known as PEG and the other is a preservative found in ice cream,” Barclay’s letter reads. “Very rare occurrences indeed.”
In a statement to CTV News, the Ministry of Health said there will be an exemption process in place for extremely rare circumstances, involving a person’s doctor and the office of the provincial health officer.
“However, these instances will be extremely rare,” added the Ministry of Health.
Currently, there are no medical exemptions in place for the B.C. vaccine card, which provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said is a temporary measure.
In addition to the medical criteria for vaccine exemptions, Barclay said his letter does offer some advice to those may be hesitant to get the vaccine.
“When speaking to my patients, I typically start with trying to be empathetic to where their concerns are, because there are a variety of reasons as to why people are hesitant to get the vaccine. Perhaps they’re worried it’s too new or potentially unsafe,” said Barclay.
“My truth is based on the statistics I get on the medical literature, so I try to explain that, and then I have to leave it in their court to see if they will accept that or not,” he added.
The other issue that has come up for Barclay is frustration from patients who say they are being mandated by their employers to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Here’s a thought,” Barclay’s letter reads. “When people get in a car, do they put on a seatbelt, follow the speed limit and stop at red lights? Those are things that are ‘mandated’ (actually laws) that were brought in to decrease the likelihood of the driver, their family, their neighbours and community from dying in a motor vehicle accident. COVID vaccine mandates decrease the likelihood of you, your family, your neighbours and community from dying from COVID. Simple.”
Sarah Forte, an employment lawyer at Forte Law, said whether someone can be fired based on their vaccination status is not a straightforward question.
“We have to look at the reason behind what the vaccination status is,” Forte said. “The law around disability, vaccinations, employment and the right to terminate is changing rapidly right now as the government releases new legislation.”
“Things that used to be very certain, even just a few weeks ago, about what people’s rights are, are a lot less certain. Employers and workers are really needing to rely heavily on doctors’ opinions to figure out what is the right thing to do here,” she added.
If Barclay is your doctor, you likely will not be receiving an exemption letter if you do not fall under the medical criteria listed above. If you do have a serious medical condition, however, Barclay said that’s all the more reason to get vaccinated.
“If you already have heart disease, lung disease or kidney disease and you get COVID, your risk of getting seriously ill is much higher,” said Barclay.