Discriminatory B.C. health policies favour government workers

This column is about a forgotten group whose voice has been drowned by anti-vaccine rhetoric – a group that has been wilfully ignored by the B.C. government and public health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and denied rights and access that have been offered to others. I’m talking about people medically unable to be safely vaccinated and who need formal exemptions to save their livelihoods.

During research, I found the public health officer (PHO) created a two-tiered medical exemption/deferral system – one system that highly favours the provincial government’s 30,000 unionized employees, and another extremely limited system for private-sector employees.

Government workers have been afforded far greater medical flexibility and freedom for exemptions, while those who work for private companies, or are self employed and bid for work, have been given near-impossible medical standards to meet. The PHO is denying the public valid contraindications and precautions set out by Health Canada. Other provinces are following those guidelines. Why is B.C. different?

From a communications perspective, the BC NDP – cooperating with the PHO – is sending a clear message that protecting the health and jobs of their own vaccine-vulnerable employees matters more than protecting the health and jobs of people who work for private enterprise.

The discrepancies are arbitrary, inequitable, and contradictory – and will certainly invite human-rights actions:

•Deferrals vs. exemptions: The PHO will approve only  “temporary medical deferrals” for the general public with no contemplation for permanent exemption. However, the PHO allows “permanent medical exemptions” for government workers. The titles of each official application form state as much.

•Hypersensitivity: In September 2021, the PHO’s “Valid Contraindications and Deferrals” form for the public stated that hypersensitivity was indeed a contraindication. Three weeks later, the PHO specifically disallowed that category and definitively stated on the form that it is “not a contraindication.” Yet somehow, the PHO allows hypersensitivity as a valid concern for government workers. Health Canada includes proven hypersensitivity to vaccine ingredients on its list of contraindications. Does the PHO believe that hypersensitivity can affect only B.C.’s unionized workers? Why the flip-flop on that category?

•Pre-existing medical conditions: Health Canada recommends precautions with certain pre-existing medical conditions. The PHO allows this category for government workers, but not the public.

•Physician’s assessment: The public’s form allows only one box to be checked for very specific contraindications as determined by the PHO, with no room for a physician’s assessment and statement, nor an area to discuss medical limitations and restrictions. However, these categories and fields, which help provide important facts and context, are on the form for government employees.

•Ignoring those who cannot be vaccinated: Members of the public are considered for deferral only after they’ve had a first COVID shot that rendered a bad reaction. The PHO outright ignores those medically unable to have any vaccines – even someone who provides 20 years of medical records proving prolonged and permanent negative impacts from vaccine components and other injectable therapies. The PHO refuses to even consider letters from physicians and specialists on behalf of patients, instead, forcing them to fill out the official medical deferral form that doesn’t apply. This essentially denies these vulnerable individuals access and options that are available to government workers.

Is the PHO suggesting that unionized government workers are built differently and have different medical realities than everyone else? Is Dr. Henry suggesting she knows better than Health Canada?

The BC NDP will argue that the PHO operates independently of government, but the fact is the PHO created the exemption criteria for both employment groups and is the approving body for both employment groups – and this was all approved by government. So, while unionized government employees can receive a medical exemption and keep their jobs, private-enterprise workers have been denied the same opportunity and face being fired.

I’d like to ask a question of the architect of these exemption lists: “Dr. Henry, where is the kindness, protection and equitable treatment for those medically unable to be safely vaccinated?” •

Renu Bakshi (renu@renubakshi.com) is a former longtime journalist now working as a senior communications strategist specializing in crisis management and media training.