'I can't be the only one': N.S. man calls for access to non-mRNA boosters after rare adverse reaction
Jeff Ferguson still has the scars left behind after suffering a severe case of cutaneous vasculitis late last summer.
Symptoms of the inflammation of the small blood vessels appeared around 10 days after his second COVID-19 vaccination last July.
“First shot of Pfizer, I had maybe seven spots on my right leg. Second shot of Pfizer, I ended up getting 30 spots on my left leg,” said Ferguson.
According to Ferguson, those spots spread, and got worse. They were itchy, painful, and developed into sores.
He went to the doctor, which is where things got serious.
“He sent me directly to emergency because my heart was racing. They found out I had vasculitis, and my heart was at 154 with fluid in my lungs,” he said.
Ferguson was admitted immediately and spent nine days in hospital.
“I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t wear shoes,” he said. “It was very painful. You couldn’t let your legs touch together. It felt like someone was driving needles into your ankles.”
Cutaneous vasculitis is included on a list of reported adverse events of special interest by the Public Health Agency of Canada, with 32 incidents potentially related to COVID-19 vaccinations in Canada as of Jan. 14.
That means the incidence is extremely rare, considering there are almost 14.6 million eligible Canadians with third doses so far.
“There are lots of things that can trigger vasculitis,” says Dr. Kerri Purdy, a dermatologist and division head of Dalhousie University’s Division of Clinical Dermatology.
Purdy says she's never seen it in her practice after a COVID-19 vaccination, and that sometimes the exact cause of the disorder is unknown.
However, she adds, it is possible.
“We do know that infections and medications are very common triggers, and so it would stand to reason that a vaccination could also trigger it, as could a COVID infection,” she said.
Purdy says while there have been documented cases of cutaneous vasculitis in COVID-19 patients, she stresses that a connection to COVID-19 immunizations is not definitive at this point.
There is also data that shows the vaccines are effective protection against serious outcomes and hospitalization due to COVID-19.
However, Ferguson says having the reaction so soon after his vaccination is more than coincidence.
“It had to be; there was no other outside influence,” Ferguson says.
Ferguson says it took six weeks to physically get back on his feet again. He says he feels fine now, although he is on eight new medications.
Even after his experience, Ferguson still wants his booster to help protect himself against COVID-19.
“I work in the service industry in Halifax. I’m around a lot more people than most, so a booster would be perfect,” said Ferguson.
But there’s a catch.
While many Maritimers are rolling up their sleeves for another dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, Ferguson says he’s been told by health professionals that he can’t get boosted with an mRNA vaccine because of what happened. Currently, those vaccines are the only ones approved for a third dose in Canada.
“Every time you turn around, you know, you look at the TV, (it) says, ‘Get your booster.' The news stations, ‘Get your booster.' The newspaper, 'Get your booster,' and I can’t get one because they don’t have a non-mRNA one,” Ferguson said.
When asked, the province of Nova Scotia says it recognizes some people can't take mRNA vaccines and it's working on a solution.
“We are working with our partners to find a solution for people who can only receive a viral vector vaccine as a booster dose,” says a statement provided by Marla MacInnis, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Wellness. “As more information becomes available, it will be publicly communicated.”
CTV Atlantic asked Health Canada where the process stands in approving any viral vector vaccine as a booster. The department responded with an email statement late Wednesday afternoon.
"Health Canada is currently reviewing data on their safety and efficacy when given as a booster. As with all COVID-19 drugs and vaccines, Health Canada is prioritizing the reviews.
As these reviews are all still ongoing, it is not possible to predict when any regulatory decision will be made," the statement reads.
The statement continues with a reminder that Health Canada does not make vaccine recommendations for individual patients, which is up to health professionals
Meanwhile, Ferguson says he's sharing his experience, not to discourage vaccination, but to make sure boosters are available to everyone who needs them -- even people who’ve had rare adverse reactions.
When asked if he’s worried some might use his experience as an argument against vaccination, he says that’s not the point.
“It doesn’t even concern me, really. It’s my body and I can do with my body what I like, just like they can do with theirs,” said Ferguson.
He says he still believes in the science behind the COVID-19 vaccines and the protection they provide against the virus.
“It's proven that they actually work,” he says. “It's science, so it does work.”
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