Loren Barr, a stem cell transplant patient in the Comox Valley, is trying to raise awareness what he calls a “second dose situation.” Scott Stanfield photo

Loren Barr, a stem cell transplant patient in the Comox Valley, is trying to raise awareness what he calls a “second dose situation.” Scott Stanfield photo

Comox Valley stem cell transplant patient takes government to task

Loren Barr, a stem cell transplant patient in the Comox Valley, is trying to raise awareness what he calls a “second dose situation.”

The 71-year-old is challenging government on its roll-out of the COVID vaccine, specifically on the delay of the second shot. Delaying it, he said, could be fatal for immunocompromised people such as himself.

“They have extended it (second dose) for the Pfizer,” Barr said. “The CDC (Centre for Disease Control) and the manufacturer says 21 days. Our federal government has said four months is just fine. They have absolutely no evidence to support that, especially if you’re immune compromised, which transplant patients are. It is the absolute worst thing you could do, but they did not take that into account whatsoever.

“The first year is critical for transplant patients,” he added. “We go through chemo, which kills everything in our system. We have no anti-bodies. It also wipes out all of your lifelong vaccinations.”

Barr suffers from a rare disease called myelodisplastic syndrome, which shuts down the bone marrow, and doesn’t produce red and white blood cells. He was diagnosed in 2013, and was given three-and-a-half years to live.

“For whatever reason, I kept kicking and went way past my expiry date.”

He was told a stem cell transplant was the only possible cure, though at first he wasn’t accepted to the program due to his age. Later, however, he said the program placed more importance on physical condition — and he received the transplant Nov. 8. He had been given a 30 per cent chance of surviving the operation.

“Thirty per cent was better than nothing, which is what my odds were without the transplant,” said Barr, who spent four months at Vancouver General Hospital.

Shortly thereafter, the coronavirus pandemic struck. Despite taking cyclosporine, which he was told reduces the efficacy of the vaccine, Barr received a Pfizer vaccine April 23.

He has emailed his concerns to Premier John Horgan, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Courtenay-Comox MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard — along with every member of the legislature.

So far, he has only heard back from Adam Olsen, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, who asked for more information.

The Health Ministry says B.C.’s approach to the extended dose interval to a maximum of four months is based on a recommendation by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, “which is based on evidence, efficacy, modeling, ethical principles, and expert opinions,” a statement says. “As B.C.’s immunization rollout accelerates and more vaccine becomes available, the interval between the two doses may decrease.”

At this time, there are no medical exemptions to provide second doses ahead of the scheduled interval.

Barr’s ordeal has taken a toll on his life. It cost him his marriage and his business. But he hopes something good can come out of the ordeal, which has inspired him to fight for what he believes in.

“Don’t put total faith in the experts and what they tell you. Don’t give up hope. You have to ask the medical experts lots of questions, and stay on top of everything.”

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