B.C. has now indicated medical exemptions to the incoming vaccine card requirement may be allowed, but only in “extremely rare” cases.
As of Wednesday evening, more than 700,000 people in B.C. had accessed their vaccine card, which will have to be shown as proof at certain non-essential businesses and activities as of Sept. 13. Proof of full vaccination, including being two weeks past a second shot, will be required as of Oct. 24.
When the measure was first announced last month, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said there would not be exemptions for people who are not able to get immunized for medical reasons.
“This is a temporary measure that’s getting us through a risky period where we know people who are unvaccinated are at a greater risk, both of contracting and spreading this virus,” she said at the time. “Those rare people who have a medical reason why they can’t be immunized…they will not be able to attend those events during this period.”
The lack of medical exemptions raised concerns for Disability Alliance BC. Co-executive director Helaine Boyd told CTV Vancouver Wednesday they’ve seen social isolation become exacerbated for people with disabilities throughout the pandemic, and “this is just another example.”
“We fully believe that anyone who can get vaccinated should get vaccinated. However, we do think that there is blatant discrimination being made,” she said. “We have heard from some individuals who have tried to get vaccinated, but cannot, because they have not gotten approval from their doctor or their medical professional.”
Boyd said they’d like to see the province work with them and other groups serving marginalized populations to help develop an exemption policy.
“I think it’s completely possible to find a way to navigate between protecting the overall safety of the population while also upholding and protecting the human rights of those affected by this,” she said.
“It is a small amount of people with disabilities who are affected, which in our mind, means that it wouldn’t affect the whole B.C. population and the B.C. government’s goal of protecting the wider population against COVID-19.”
Boyd added her group’s message is distinct from those who have staged protests against the vaccine card.
“We don’t really want our statement to be perverted by the anti-vax movement,” Boyd said. “There are people who have tried to get vaccinated and they can’t because of medical reasons and they don’t have a choice in the matter…whereas those who have been protesting, they do have a choice. They’re just choosing not to be vaccinated.”
In an email to CTV, the Ministry of Health indicated the province now seems to be opening the door to some exceptions.
“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,” the ministry said. “However, these instances will be extremely rare.”
The ministry added Dr. Bonnie Henry has said those who are currently unvaccinated, for any reason, the kinds of indoor settings eligible for the vaccine card are “high risk” right now.
The vaccine card measure will mean people will be required to produce proof of vaccination for activities like dining out at restaurants, going to the movies, attending indoor ticketed concerts and sporting events, or working out at a fitness centre or gym. It will not apply to retail or essential services including groceries and health care. The order will be in place until the end of January, with the possibility for an extension.