Millions of dollars have been distributed to Canadians affected by COVID vaccine injuries.
Canada’s Vaccine Injury Support Program has paid out $11,236,314 in compensation to 1,825 families by the end of last year, but accessing these funds is hard with a system that’s difficult to navigate and doctors unwilling to officially recognize many vaccine injuries, patients say.
Ross Wightman, 42, received almost $250,000 in compensation from the program. “It sounds like 250 grand is a large amount of money in certain contexts, but not when it’s associated with something like this and has massive health and financial recourse down the road for me, like earning potential and other expenses like housework and mowing the lawn,” he said.
Wightman received his first and only dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine Apr. 30, 2021.
“After watching the news, I thought this stuff was safe and effective. And thought just get this over with and get our lives back,” Wightman said. “I had blind faith in everyone, the government and media and the drug makers, that they’re not going to give us something that could potentially hurt me.“
Ten days later, he woke up in the middle of the night at his home in Lake Country, B.C., with back pain so severe he decided to go to the hospital.
“You know, jokingly, it was like, ‘Well, I’m turning 40 in four months. Maybe this is just what happens when you get older,’” Wightman said.
But, after a few days, the pain persisted and continued to worsen.
“I went to the E.R. three times and was discharged just with anti-inflammatories or other painkillers. Nothing could cut through the pain at all,” he said.
After some bloodwork, a lumbar puncture, and a nerve conduction study, doctors in Vernon, B.C., found a protein in Wightman’s spinal cord fluid. He was diagnosed with Guillain–Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that affects the peripheral nervous system.
Before being diagnosed, Wightman took pride in working out five days a week for over 20 years to be in good health for his past career as a pilot.
From being in good health to spending 67 days in the hospital, paralyzed from the waist down, with facial paralysis, and at times immobile.
“I had to rely on people to do everything for me, like help me get out of bed, and it’s been a grind ever since,” he said.
Wightman now has permanent damage in his legs, feet and hands and has to wear special orthotic braces.
Ross Wightman in his kitchen showing the permanent nerve damage in his hands caused by Guillain-Barre syndrome.
Wightman can no longer perform the same roles around the house or play sports with his children as he used to.
“Playing catch, kicking a ball or running around is not something I’m able to do right now,” he said. “Everything has changed.”
Even so, Wightman had difficulty getting a diagnosis connecting his condition to the vaccine.
Neither the doctors nor Interior Health, one of British Columbia’s regional health authorities, would officially declare that his injury was vaccine-related. But privately, it was a different story.
“To my face, they said, ‘ Nothing else (but the vaccine) could have caused this. The likelihood is almost absolute,’” Wightman said.
One doctor told him the vaccine was “definitely the cause,” but would have to check with his colleagues and be careful how he wrote it.
In Kelowna, B.C., a specialist recommended him to the Vaccine Injury Support Program.
Wightman and his wife were concerned that they would continue to hear the same unwillingness to officially link his condition to the vaccine until doctors from the compensation program agreed and put on paper what doctors had been telling him privately.
Wightman found the Vaccine Injury Support Program challenging to navigate. He explained that to apply, claimants must fill out every expense, the date and time of each appointment, a list of every medication, and a complete medical record so doctors can validate the claim.
He heard from other claimants with similar problems with the program. For many, the lump sum payout was “insignificant,” and access to timely communication from case managers was a common problem.
Wightman had to be proactive, continually calling to ensure people were still working on his case. Wightman tracked down his vaccine batch number and learned that his shot came from a Baltimore, Md. factory with known quality control problems at the time he was injured.
The Vaccine Injury Support Program did not respond to a request from True North regarding Wightman’s claim that system was difficult to navigate, but a spokesperson did explain the process for determining compensation.
“A panel of three VISP physicians will determine if the vaccine was the probable cause of the injury and if the injury is severe and permanent. This will determine the eligibility and level of financial support. The amount of financial support is based on a pre-determined financial support payment framework,” the spokesperson said.
Wightman thinks the Canadian government could have prevented vaccine injuries by not accepting AstraZeneca from the Baltimore plant despite the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s warning of poor quality earlier that month.
“I’d love to see an inquiry or an investigation going on there because there’s not just a little bit of smoke there. There’s a lot of smoke.” Wightman said.
By March 2021, over a dozen countries had suspended using the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
The B.C. government initially suspended AstraZeneca vaccine for anyone under 55 that same month, but by April 19, in response to a third wave of COVID, expanded access to people 40 and up. Wightman received the AstraZeneca vaccine 11 days later, although he was only 39 at the time.
Other than a more accessible program to navigate and more compensation from the government to account for expenses and lost earnings, Wightman would like an official apology.
“I would like to hear that ‘We oversold the vaccines. We know now that they weren’t as effective as we thought, and a lot of people were hurt along the way,” he said.