An Alexandra couple trying to get support for a vaccine injury have spent months battling bureaucracy.
Ben Jonutz was diagnosed with acute pericarditis after receiving the Pfizer BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on November 2.
In the days following, Mr Jonutz and partner Mikayla Wilson endured four ambulance rides, trips to both Dunstan and Dunedin Hospital and multiple cardiologist and GP appointments, along with a slew of medical tests.
Mr Jonutz has been denied a medical exemption being advised not to get the second shot have struggled to get support from ACC or the Ministry of Health (MOH).
Mr Jonutz’s medical insurer Accuro Health Insurance initially accepted a pre-approval for specialist consultation, but declined further cover due to his policy’s pandemic clause stating “any consultations or treatment related to avian influenza or other pandemic are not covered”.
Mid-November, ACC informed cover for Mr Jonutz “had not been determined” and it was unable to consider his application.
Without ACC, Mr Jonutz continued work as a mechanic, agitating his condition and causing him to collapse at work.
The strain of the situation took a huge toll on the couple, Mr Jonutz said.
“It’s very stressful on our relationship and everyday life telling your partner that you love them every night just before you go to bed because you’re scared you won’t be waking up in the morning to see them again.
“You try to do the right thing and seek help and there’s no help there to support you when you think it might be.” he said.
ACC chief operating officer Gabrielle O’Connor said Mr Jonutz’s claim was never declined, but “held” while ACC sought further information to determine cover.
The claim has since been accepted and ACC have provided back-dated weekly compensation and treatment-related costs.
The Covid-19 vaccine became available in New Zealand in February last year and up until February 5, 2022, ACC received 1996 claims for injuries relating to the vaccination.
Of these, 729 were accepted, 724 were declined and 543 were yet to be decided.
Mr Jonutz was advised not to receive the second Pfizer vaccine, and with a family history of blood clots alternative vaccine AstraZeneca was ruled out.
Mr Jonutz’s GP applied to the Ministry of Health for a medical exemption; however, it was declined on the basis he could receive AstraZeneca.
When contacted by The News, MOH said it could not comment on an individual’s clinical circumstances, but temporary medical exemption (TME) applications were reviewed by a panel of clinical experts, with the Director General deciding on the outcome.
National Immunisation Programme group manager post event (pharmacovigilance, vaccine effectiveness and population protection) Dr Tim Hanlon said vaccination was the strongest and most effective tool available to protect against infection and disease, including Covid-19.
“There are very few situations where a vaccine is contraindicated, and a medical exemption is infrequently granted.”
As of March 7, MOH had received 2249 TME applications.
Of those 736 were granted, 813 declined, and 111 applications were still open.
The remaining 589 were incomplete and unable to proceed to the panel.
After feeling they had exhausted all avenues the couple approached Southland MP Joseph Mooney for help.
He described their situation as “concerning”.
“I understand that despite having a cardiologist report [confirming pericarditis] they’ve been declined an exemption from getting the second shot and I’m concerned whoever is making this decision is not properly looking at the material provided to them.”
Mr Mooney wrote to Minister of Health Andrew Little and Minister of Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins on March 8 regarding Mr Jonutz’s situation, but is yet to receive a reply.