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Boy, 13, turned away from B.C. walk-in clinic because he isn't vaccinated

Seeking a break from the wildfire smoke at home in Falkland, Kate Stein and her kids were spending the day with her parents in Enderby on Monday when her son fell off his skateboard. A few hours later, the 13-year-old boy’s wrist was still sore.
A 13-year-old boy who fell off his skateboard was turned away from the Enderby Medical Clinic because he hadn't been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Seeking a break from the wildfire smoke at home in Falkland, Kate Stein and her kids were spending the day with her parents in Enderby on Monday when her son fell off his skateboard.

A few hours later, the 13-year-old boy’s wrist was still sore.

“Going to the ER seemed drastic,” she said, “but I thought maybe we could get it checked at the walk-in clinic.”

When Stein called the Enderby Medical Clinic to see if the doctor had space, the receptionist said he did, but then asked if her son had been vaccinated. After hearing the boy hadn’t been, she was told to take him to the emergency room at Shuswap Lake General Hospital in neighbouring Salmon Arm.

“I was flabbergasted,” she said. “The doctor wouldn’t see us. He was only accepting fully vaccinated patients.”

Stein said she isn’t opposed to vaccination.

“Both my husband and I are fully vaccinated. But my son just turned 13 and we didn’t want to rush into it. We’re still figuring it out.”

Stein eventually drove her son to Salmon Arm. But she’s worried other people might not have that option, particularly in remote communities where there are fewer places to see a doctor, or transportation to another community might be impossible.

“What is happening in our province that health care is now optional?” she said. “If people can’t access health care, I think we have a problem.”

On Monday, the B.C. government announced new rules requiring citizens to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination to get into non-essential businesses and events, such as sporting events, nightclubs, restaurants and movies, beginning Sept. 13. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association called the plan, which doesn’t apply to health care, faith services or to children under age 12 who aren’t eligible for vaccines, “arbitrary and illegal.”

The B.C. Ministry of Health didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Mario Devault said he had a similar experience at the Enderby clinic on Tuesday. The martial arts instructor was hoping to get a referral from the doctor when he was stopped at the door.

“The secretary asked if I was fully vaccinated. I said no and she said that the doctor will not see me,” he said.

Devault said he wanted to talk to the doctor “just to see.”

“I sat in the waiting area and the doctor eventually came out and immediately started yelling at me to get out,” he said.

Devault said he also saw an elderly woman turned away while he was waiting.

Postmedia could not reach the Enderby Medical Clinic or the doctor in charge, Jeff Millar. Earlier this week, Millar told the Castanet news site that the clinic’s policies were recently updated due to concerns about the number of COVID cases in Interior Health and the rise of the Delta variant.

“Those who are not fully vaccinated and have no primary care physician are told to provide their phone number and the doctor will call them to discuss their medical concerns,” reads the clinic’s new policy, which was provided to Castanet. “Those who are not fully vaccinated and have a current primary care physician are told to first call their own doctor.”

A sign posted on the door to the walk-in clinic Tuesday said the clinic was closed until further notice and advised people to travel to emergency rooms in Vernon or Salmon Arm for medical attention.

Both the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons, which regulates the practice of medicine under provincial law, and Doctors of B.C., the association representing doctors, are clear that doctors can’t discriminate based on vaccination status.

But Doctors of B.C. president Matthew Chow said doctors have “seen first-hand the ravages of COVID-19.”

“We are a profession under extraordinary pressure, with high reported rates of burnout and fatigue due to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19,” he said in a statement. “Unvaccinated patients are at risk, and also present a risk to people around them who are immunocompromised, or who cannot be vaccinated.”

Chow said doctors may take extra precautions with eligible but unvaccinated patients, for example separating them from immunocompromised patients, or booking them at the beginning or end of the day.

In an article published online in August, the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons said registrants “must ensure unvaccinated patients are given the same access to care as vaccinated patients.”

The article continued: “It would be indefensible from an ethical point of view for a registrant to require documented proof that a patient has been vaccinated as a prerequisite for attending their office. However, it is reasonable for a registrant to request that patients report their vaccine status to them. Once aware of a patient’s vaccine status, registrants should manage appointment times in a way that does not compromise the health of other patients or their medical office staff.”