A Kelowna family has been granted an exemption to a coming vaccine requirement at Ronald McDonald House (RMH) in Vancouver.
Families staying at the facility were told this week everyone over the age of five staying at or visiting RMH must be vaccinated by the end of the month. The 73-bedroom home, operated by a charity, provides families with a place to stay while children get treated at the nearby BC Children's Hospital.
Brian Blakely says their doctor has now provided an exemption for their five-year-old son, Andrew, who is staying at RMH while he battles leukemia. The exemption for Andrew has been allowed until he enters remission at least, which is hopefully this spring, when he can return home to the Okanagan.
Blakely says they are breathing a massive sigh of relief, but wishes the requirement would have been communicated better.
“We're so thankful for what they do,” he said. “It's just I think it was done, not thinking.”
The letter announcing the vaccine requirement sent impacted residents into a panic. Blakely said they were completely unaware anything like it was coming.
Ronald McDonald House has said that it will help find other places for families to stay who don’t want to vaccinate, but Blakely said that wasn’t communicated until people were panicking and in tears.
“Most families, they're under so much stress already,” he said, and a potential change to their living situation sent some over the edge.
He is still disappointed his eight-year-old unvaccinated daughter won’t be able to visit her brother due to the vaccine policy, but the family is hopeful Andrew will be able to leave RMH this spring anyways.
The news of the vaccine policy became a worldwide news story on Wednesday after another Kelowna father, Austin Furgason, went viral on Facebook with a video confronting an RMH manager about the policy. Austin and his wife had both chosen to be unvaccinated. Their four-year-old, Jack, was staying at RMH while he fought leukemia.
The Furgasons' story gained major traction in the U.S., amplified by right-wing personalities like Steven Crowder, Jack Posobiec and Rep. Lauren Boebert, who shared it with millions of followers. Austin made a primetime appearance on Fox News and a GoFundMe for the Furgasons has since raised more than $150,000. Action4Canada announced on Thursday the Furgasons have been offered a place to stay at the Easter Seals House in Vancouver.
Blakely says he’s sad Ronald McDonald House became a U.S. political flashpoint for a day.
“I personally, I don't even want to be associated with some of that,” he said.
“The number one focus is your kid. That's your first focus. That's the most important thing right now, is your child and you choose — your child doesn't have to be vaccinated. He can stay,” Blakely said.
Blakely said their family was deeply skeptical of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“But as a parent, we're like, the kids is the first focus,” he said.
“So we must take the most precautions we can and so we both vaccinated, as much protection as we can, because our first focus is Andrew.”
Blakely says he’s “OK” with pushing parents at RMH to get vaccinated, but would like to see some sort of testing alternative for children. The vaccine aside, he isn’t sure why rapid tests haven’t been used at the facility for months already.
He reiterated, over and over, how grateful their family is for RMH.
Every year, Vancouver's Ronald McDonald House helps more than 2,000 families. Around 30% of families come from the B.C. Interior with the rest from Vancouver Island and the north.
In its statement sent to media about the situation Wednesday, Ronald McDonald House said the vaccine policy was approved by its board on the recommendation of the provincial government.
“We appreciate that this policy will impact those who have made a decision not to vaccinate however, the overall health and welfare of all our residents is our primary concern,” the statement said.
The National Cancer Institute in the U.S. says that people with cancer, particularly blood cancers like leukemia, are at higher risk of prolonged infection and death from COVID-19.