They believe that COVID is real and that vaccines work. They’re fighting vaccine passports in court anyway

Regardless of the ideas that occur to you when you think of two people who launch a constitutional challenge against vaccine passports, who are antimaskers, for example, or who do not believe that COVID-19 is a real threat, Leah Anne Eliason and Sarah Webb probably didn’t fit the mold.

Both women say they believe the pandemic is real, that they do not really want to contract COVID-19 or make their families sick, and that public health measures, such as masking and distancing, are justified to curb the coronavirus. effects.

Both say they believe vaccines, including vaccines developed to fight COVID-19, are effective.

However, they are fighting the BC vaccine passport program in court.

Both Eliason and Webb have doctors who advise against getting vaccinated.

Unlike other provinces, BC does not allow medical exemptions to your vaccine passport. In Ontario, where a doctor’s note can exempt people from the vaccine passport program, the exemptions approved by the College of Physicians and Surgeons are extremely small – just severe allergic reactions or a case of myocarditis, a rare heart condition, after the first vaccination qualify.

More than 28,000 Canadians have died from COVID-19, and unvaccinated people are roughly 60 times more likely to end up in intensive care with the disease than unvaccinated people, according to a Ontario Science Table Study.

But that does not mean that all patients are receiving the same medical advice about their risk of serious reactions to vaccines. Eliason is not vaccinated because a number of pre-existing medical conditions cause her and her doctor to worry that the jab could trigger a more severe reaction than is standard for healthy adults (who generally face no more than arm pain and symptoms. flu-like over a period). day). In his affidavit to the British Columbia court was a letter from his doctor supporting his decision to remain unvaccinated.

“I feel like, no matter which way I look, right now there is a threat to me,” he said. “I don’t want to get COVID, but I’m also terrified of getting the vaccine.”

Amid the polarizing public conversation about vaccines, the case points to some of the complex health and personal histories that leave a small number of people caught between wanting to get vaccinated and medical advice, observers say. According to Canada’s official reporting system for vaccine reactions, only 5,161, or 0.009 percent of all COVID-19 doses administered, were followed by “serious” adverse effects, such as an allergic reaction.

At the heart of the British Columbia case is a reality that any society using vaccine passports will have to bear in mind: the system has consequences, with the social ostracism of unvaccinated adults.

Whether or not you think ostracism is justified, it is widespread. There are about five million eligible Canadians currently unvaccinated. And some, like Eliason and Webb, have received medical advice not to get vaccinated.

Geraint Osborne, a sociology professor at the University of Alberta, sees such tension in a historical context.

“Humans have long used the expulsion of people who are seen as a threat to the survival of the group as a sanction or form of social control,” Osborne said.

That brings with it a number of consequences, including mental health problems.

“In the case of the unvaccinated, the consequences of social isolation are serious; however, they are mitigated by the use of social networks to stay connected and by forming support networks with people in the same situation ”.

Eliason, who has been involved in public health measures since the beginning of the pandemic, says it’s not about the vaccine card stopping you from doing leisure activities like having lunch with friends and going out to the movies, things that you would rarely do. anyway due to his illnesses. . But the show keeps her away from some of life’s important moments, she said.

“When the pandemic started, I was absolutely terrified,” Eliason told the Star in an interview, speaking on the phone from her home in Maple Ridge, BC, where she lives with her husband and youngest daughter.

Having been chronically ill for two decades, Eliason was prolific in “physical distancing” before it was in the vocabulary of most Canadians. Kidney disease, autoimmune complications, and heart problems have kept her for the most part a self-described “house person” for 20 years, except when it comes to performances and events involving her two daughters.

Recent struggles with a neurological condition caused her extreme dizziness and vertigo, keeping her mostly at home for a two-year period that she describes as agony.

“Even when I was in the dark every day, (I found ways to do) the things that meant the most to me,” she said, “when my daughter was performing on stage, she would reserve a seat on the balcony, where she could be out of the way. . “

Now, she realizes that the fact that she is not vaccinated and does not qualify for a vaccination passport may prevent her daughter from graduating from college next year.

“So when they made the passport, without allowing medical exemptions, I can’t even explain how bad I felt,” he said.

Eliason’s own caution about her health – the fear that even a small change in her body could trigger a myriad of elusive symptoms and instigate another years-long investigation by doctors – leaves her trapped in this stage of the pandemic.

Webb, who declined to be interviewed by the Star, is in a different situation. He received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and had a severe reaction, prompting his doctor to recommend that he not receive a second, according to court documents.

Eliason and Webb are jointly petitioning the British Columbia Supreme Court to rule that the province’s vaccine passport policy unfairly discriminates against their constitutional rights to equality and freedom of movement.

The question of whether vaccine passports are justified has already been addressed in other legal forums, namely the human rights courts in Ontario and BC

Both courts have released guidance documents explaining that vaccination cards are not a violation of human rights, as receiving a vaccine is a personal choice, not a circumstance protected by human rights laws.

But Eliason and Webb’s petition is at odds with something particular about BC’s vaccine passport program: the fact that it doesn’t clearly describe a process for medical exemptions.

If the court rules in your favor, it can essentially overturn the provincial vaccine passport system as unconstitutional, but is more likely to require the province to allow a broader range of exemptions to the program, says Carissima Mathen, a law professor. at the University of Ottawa.

“The lack of a medical exemption creates burdens for people who essentially have, as the law would see, a disability that prevents them from getting vaccinated,” Mathen said. “Then you have to show that the distinction is discriminatory.”

If a court is convinced that the rules are discriminatory against people who cannot receive the vaccine for medical reasons, the government can still argue that it is a reasonable limit on freedoms in the context of the pandemic.

For that reason, Mathen said, he doesn’t think the vaccine card challenges in other jurisdictions like Ontario, which has rules on medical exemptions, will be successful. But there is a window for the case of BC, which focuses on the specific circumstance of people who have been told by doctors that vaccines may carry greater risks for them than for the general population.

That hasn’t stopped some from labeling Eliason, Webb, and their legal team as anti-vaccines, labels that all strongly refute.

“I am not ashamed of my chronic disease and I want people to understand that no, I am not an anti-vaccine or an anti-masker, there are many of us who are sadly caught in the middle,” Eliason said. . “The safest thing that happened to me is that my family got vaccinated.”

Christine Van Geyn is the Toronto-based chief litigation officer for the Canadian Constitution Foundation, a nonpartisan group launching an administrative challenge to BC’s immunization card, aside from the Eliason and Webb case.

Van Geyn said the reason his challenge also focuses on people with medical problems that prevent them from getting vaccinated is that he feels “urgent concern” on behalf of those people’s rights.

“I wish the tone of the conversation around this whole thing had more compassion, especially for these people with medical conditions,” he said.

“Many of the patients we are working with have expressed concern about being put into an anti-vaccine narrative because they had adverse reactions. But adverse reactions do happen, and we should treat people with compassion when they do. “

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