Fernando Caballero is bored of what he was: carefree, party life and protector of his family. The 67-year-old was active and enjoyed rollerblading in the summer, ice skating in the winter and dancing all year round.
But now he uses a cane or walker to get around and takes several nerve pain medications to help manage Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) – a rare neurological disorder he developed after receiving the Oxford vaccine -AstraZeneca COVID-19 in early 2021.
He tracks his rehabilitation progress in part by counting the number of short dance steps he can take in a row.
“I lost a lot,” Caballero told CBC Toronto in Spanish as his daughter translated. “I just feel very trapped in what I can do now versus what I was able to do before.”
Toronto Public Health conducted an investigation, which revealed that Caballero had developed GBS as a result of the vaccine. He advised her not to receive another dose of the vaccine.
GBS causes the body’s immune system to damage nerve cells, resulting in pain, numbness, and muscle weakness. Although rare, it may be linked to other vaccines, such as the flu vaccine.
According to the US government’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 70% of people diagnosed with GBS make a full recovery and less than 15% experience long-term weakness severe enough to require walking assistance.
Caballero believes he qualifies to receive financial support through the federal government’s relatively new Vaccine Injury Support Program (VISP). But he has been waiting for more than a year for his application to be processed. He recently made the difficult decision to return to work to help support his family.
“We just can’t hold on any longer. We really can’t,” Caballero told his wife at the time.
Caballero, who was a mechanical engineer in Colombia before moving to Toronto in 2004, now performs maintenance and custodial work with reduced mobility, pain in his legs and feet, and numbness in his hands. He was hospitalized for over a month, couldn’t work for a year, and had to rely on the money he was saving for his retirement.
“Any compensation I could get would help us get back to where we were before,” he said. “It’s so hard having to work and not being able to stop.”
The VISP program, which is designed to support people who are seriously and permanently injured after receiving a Health Canada-approved vaccine on or after December 8, 2020. It began accepting applications on June 1, 2021. Since then, eight of the 774 applications it has received have been approved. These could include cases linked to vaccines other than those designed to protect against COVID-19. This number does not include requests from Quebec, which has its own program.
Seventy-one requests were rejected. This means that 90% of claimants are waiting for their medical records to be collected, reviewed or for the review board to make a decision.
According to a consulting company that manages VISP, several factors affect wait times
Caballero provided all the information and records he could. Her daughter Amalia says she repeatedly inquired about an update, but didn’t receive much information.
“I’m very disappointed,” Amalia said of the program’s wait and lack of response. “I wish he didn’t have to work. I just want him to have a bit of a break, not have to worry so much about the family.”
The VISP is funded by the federal government and administered by an external company, Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton (RCGT) consulting.
Asked about Caballero’s candidacy, Edward Maier, project manager and senior case manager for the program, said the company could not discuss individual cases for confidentiality reasons. It would not disclose the range of allowances awarded to candidates and these amounts are paid on a case-by-case basis.
“All requests received vary in nature, complexity and several other factors that could impact processing time,” he said.
Adverse reactions to vaccines are ‘extremely rare’, doctor says
Of the more than 87 million doses of COVID vaccine administered in Canada, there had been 21 confirmed cases of GBS linked to them as of June 24, according to Health Canada. Four of those cases were in Ontario, according to Public Health Ontario.
There were 32 additional reports in the province, but there was insufficient evidence for them to be defined as confirmed cases when using the Brighton Collaborative level of diagnostic certainty, which is used around the world to help define cases of adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccines, according to Public Health Ontario.
As of June 24, 9,878 serious adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccines have been reported in Canada, representing 0.011% of all doses administered, according to Health Canada. A case is considered serious if it is life threatening, requires prolonged hospitalization or hospitalization, results in significant disability, birth defect or death.
Dr. Karina Top, a pediatric infectious disease specialist in Halifax who leads the Canadian Immunization Research Network’s network of specialty immunization clinics, says serious adverse reactions to vaccines are “extremely rare.”
“We have been monitoring the safety of COVID vaccines very closely and these vaccines have been shown to be very safe,” she said.
Top, whose research focuses on vaccine safety monitoring and adverse reactions, says GBS is specifically associated more with the Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines for COVID-19, which Canada has discontinued. utilize. She says the rate of development of GBS is two to three cases per million people who receive these vaccines. She also says there’s a higher chance of getting GBS from COVID-19 than from a vaccine.
“In one study, [the rate] was closer to about 14 cases per million, so several times higher if you get COVID than if you get one of these vaccines,” she said.
According to Health Canada, when cases that do not have enough information to confirm a diagnosis are suppressed, the number of GBS cases developed by people in Canada after receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is no greater than that what one would normally expect in the general population.
“I hope I can get back to my old self”
Within two weeks of receiving the vaccine, Caballero began experiencing debilitating back pain and fell down a flight of stairs after losing control of his legs. He went to the hospital and was sent home, but the pain got worse and he kept falling. Eventually he was diagnosed with GBS.
While some recover fully, others do not and can become paralyzed in the most severe cases. Caballero says he has to pace himself at work and relies on his co-workers for help.
“I’m very tired after work and I’m in pain,” he said.
Caballero still supports vaccinations. Toronto Public Health advised him to speak with specialists to find out if he can get an mRNA vaccine, such as those produced by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna. He says that although he fears another adverse reaction, he is ready to receive an mRNA vaccine if a doctor deems it safe, but he has not been able to get a clear answer.
Caballero says doctors told him they didn’t expect his condition to improve much more, but he’s been diligent with his rehabilitation exercises and hopes he’ll be able to skate again one day. even if he is helped by his walker.
There are so many things that we take for granted,” he said. “I hope I can go back to my old self, but I know it’s a very long process and sometimes it’s not not perfect.”