Winnipeg cancer patients unable to get COVID-19 vaccine despite risks

A Winnipeg man with terminal cancer wants to know why the Manitoba government isn’t prioritizing people like him for the coronavirus vaccine.

Tim Fennell, 39, was diagnosed with bladder cancer last March as lockdowns were just beginning. Surgery to remove his bladder in the summer temporarily got rid of the cancer, before it came back months later.

“Barring a complete miracle, my cancer is terminal at this point,” Fennell said.

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He’s currently undergoing immunotherapy, which he was told could extend his life by a year or two if it’s successful.

“If it doesn’t work then we’re looking at months,” he said.

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Fennell is trying to make the most of his time, including visiting family outside Manitoba.

However, his weak immune system puts him at high risk of a severe outcome should he contract COVID-19.

“If I got COVID I probably wouldn’t survive,” Fennell said.

Fennell, who turns 40 in July, is not currently eligible for a shot in Manitoba.

“I am eligible in most other provinces right now,” he said.

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He said he has been trying to explain to the Manitoba government why he, and other cancer patients, should be prioritized for a vaccine in the province, but hasn’t received a proper explanation.

Fennell was able to find an immunizer willing to book him for an appointment for a vaccine in May.

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Pharmacies and clinics can be operated in the best interests of client/patient health and service, according to the province’s website.

While Fennell has been able to secure an appointment himself, he’s worried about other young adults in Manitoba who can’t do the same.

“There are all kinds of people in situations like me, or worse, that have been trying to get a vaccine and they’re frustrated they can’t get one,” Fennell said.

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Jason Gisser, 36, was diagnosed with a rare tumor called ameloblastoma several years ago.

He is currently controlling the cancer with oral chemotherapy, which is weakening his immune system.

Several phone calls and tweets to immunizers and government officials have failed to land him an appointment for a vaccine.

“I’ve been told, ‘You don’t meet the age yet,’” Gisser said.

“I never thought there would be a situation where I’d basically have to beg for important medication but that’s exactly the situation I find myself in, as well as many other young adults with high-risk medical conditions.”

It’s not clear if the Manitoba government will change its criteria for cancer patients.

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The province announced last Friday that all adults living in three Winnipeg neighbourhoods can now get priority access to a COVID-19 vaccine, with more neighbourhoods to be announced in the coming days.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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