A Summerland resident is frustrated that the government’s Vaccine Injury Support Program (VISP) is taking so long to go through his case, a year after he says the COVID-19 vaccine caused a rare neurological condition that left him paralyzed from the waist down.
Julian Scholefield was out on Okanagan Lake with his family on July 25, 2021. He said he noticed suddenly that his left leg started to get a bit hot and a little tingly.
“Then it started to go up on my right leg as well. And that gave me a little bit more worry. So we decided to head back to shore and we were back kind of at the dock within two hours. And at that point, I was actually paralyzed from about my midsection down, and I couldn't hold myself up.”
Scholefield said the paralysis came over the course of a few hours, just 12 days after he received his second dose of a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
A nearby neighbour, who also happened to be a doctor, rushed Scholefield down to the Penticton Regional Hospital.
“But the MRI unit was not working. So they put me in the ambulance and took me up to Kelowna General.”
Scholefield spent 89 days in the hospital, with three weeks at Kelowna General and five weeks at Penticton Regional before heading down to G Strong in Vancouver for rehabilitation for five weeks.
Once a very active, healthy man, Scholefield has had to adjust over the past year to move in a wheelchair. His house has been outfitted and changed at a cost to the family in order to be liveable for him.
“We've got a three-floor lift and that was a significant cost, obviously out of pocket. That cost may or may not be covered by the vaccine injury support program. We don't know. And so at this stage, it's sort debt that's sort of lingering, sitting there.”
Scholefield hasn’t been able to work since his injury and is off on disability. Family, neighbours and friends have stepped in to help out. A GoFundMe started by Scholefield’s wife helped raise money for the wheelchair, the elevator, physical therapies and basic needs.
“I can't thank the donors from $5, up to over $1,000 from individual donors, I can't thank them enough for their generosity and support.”
He’s currently sporting faded pink hair, dyed bright a few weeks ago to celebrate a friend’s five year anniversary of being cancer-free. He said that the past year has been an adjustment and he hopes to walk again.
“One of the most eye-opening things for me, being now in a wheelchair, is how helpful people are...I found that people are eager to open a door or to offer assistance. And that, to me, is very heartwarming.”
Scholefield said that he was diagnosed with acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), which is an attack of inflammation in the brain and spinal cord that damages myelin – the protective covering of nerve fibre, according to the National Institutes of Health.
According to Scholefield, the relation between the vaccine and ADEM was found by his doctors through a process of elimination.
“They were able to just eliminate kind of every other possible cause. And there's this outlier, where I had the vaccine.”
Information on the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) website stated that the rare condition can occur up to six weeks following vaccination. Side effects can happen from vaccines and "vaccine safety is continuously monitored to identify any serious adverse events."
Castanet reached out to find out how many people have been diagnosed with ADEM after getting the vaccine, to which the BCCDC said that "To date, no cases of ADEM have been reported in association with the COVID-19 vaccines in BC."
"All adverse events following immunization (AEFI) reported to BC public health are investigated and are further reported to the national surveillance system," they added.
"ADEM is a very rare condition considered to be autoimmune in nature, of which about 40 cases are reported each year in BC (due to non-vaccine causes), with a distribution across the age span."
Since being released from the hospital, Scholefield has been seeing anyone who can help with alternative medicine therapies, including an acupuncturist, an osteopath, a homeopath, a naturopath, a quantum neurologist and a pulsed electromagnetic field therapist.
He's also been undergoing chemotherapy treatments to help bring down the swelling on his spine.
“It's a year later, and I’m still finding out how to make things work, how to do things in day-to-day life. Getting up in the morning is probably the worst,” he said. “It's the hardest. I wake up every day and I'm like, ‘Yep, still can't feel my legs’, and look over and there's the wheelchair and then it's like, okay, yeah, this is still real, this is still true.”
“I think that this was a government-mandated vaccine, I followed the rules, I did what I was told. And so far, I feel like the government does not have my back.”
Scholefield applied to the VISP in October, which began accepting claims on June 1, 2021. The government came out promising compensation to those with a “serious and permanent” injury from vaccination.
According to the program statistics provided on the government website, 774 claims have been received from the start of the program until June 1, 2022.
“My file is still under review. And what that means is kind of on a bi-weekly basis, I check in and say ‘Hey, where's my file at?’ And they say, ‘Still waiting.’ And I've called in, emailed in, followed up, and it's still under review and to me, that's just taking too long.”
The latest statistics show that 553 claims are in process of collecting medical records.
For a claimant to demonstrate that the injury was caused by a vaccine, a committee comprised of three physicians will review the claimant’s medical records to determine if a probable link exists between the injury and the vaccine.
“This process is based on internationally recognized causality assessment protocols, standards, and existing frameworks, such as those established by Québec’s Vaccine Injury Compensation program and the World Health Organization (WHO),” the VISP website states.
If there is a probable link between the injury and the vaccine, medical experts will assess the severity and duration of the injury in each claim. This information will be used to determine the types and levels of financial support awarded to the claim.
There are eight claims that have been approved by the Medical Review Board. In May, a Lake Country man’s vaccine injury was certified by the federal government for compensation.
“I'd like to get some recognition from the government that, I did follow the rules. I did follow the government-mandated vaccine and this is what occurred to me. I'm not wanting to cast blame,” Scholefield said
He has reached out to multiple levels of government to let them know what had occurred.
“That's, you know, local politicians up to Dr. Bonnie Henry and Adrian Dix, the provincial Minister of Health. And I didn't hear back, not even a quick, “Have you reached out to the vaccine injury support program”, nothing and all the way up to our Federal Minister of Health no one bothered to respond, and to me, that's not good enough.”
Castanet reached out to the Public Health Agency of Canada for comment on how fast claims have been proceeding through VISP and how they are working on communication with applicants, to which they responded with the comment:
“We do not comment on specific cases or individual situations. Each claim is treated on a case-by-case basis. The process is confidential so as to protect all claimants’ personal information.”
As of March 19, 2022, the BC CDC stated there have been 11,417,292 COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in BC and 5,627 COVID-19 Adverse events following immunization reports, with 416 defined as serious adverse reactions.
Scholefield said he doesn’t define himself as an anti-vaxxer.
“I'd like to get some support and some recognition that ‘Wow, obviously that wasn't the intent’ and to have someone say 'We've got your back kind of thing and we'll be there for you.' That would mean the world to me.”