Man who cannot take vaccines for medical reasons unable to access gym

Anthony O’Connor says keeping fit is key to his wellbeing but he is denied Covid cert

Anthony O’Connor has a rare medical condition that causes him to have a severe reaction to vaccines.

The 57-year-old has been unable to have this acknowledged in order to be provided with the Covid certificate he needs to allow him access to a gym, an activity recommended as part of his treatment and that now requires proof of vaccination for entry.

As vaccination certificates are a matter for the Government, rather than the HSE, O'Connor says he has written to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to raise his case, but has not received a response. He also insists he is not anti-vaccine.

Hospital Report

O'Connor, a chartered engineer, who lives in Termonfeckin, Co Louth, with his wife and three daughters, was first diagnosed with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP) aged four. This followed him receiving a polio vaccine in 1968 and led to him being detained in an isolation ward in Cherry Orchard hospital in Dublin for nearly seven weeks.

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CIDP is a rare chronic neurological disorder involving inflammation of nerve roots and peripheral nerves as well as destruction of the fatty protective covering (myelin sheath) of the nerve fibres. O’Connor has regularly spent periods in hospital due to the condition over the years.

“Some days I am okay, other days I am so fatigued that I have to drag myself around. There is no rhyme or reason to how I might feel from day to day,” he says. “But the one thing that is a constant is the fact that I am always in pain. The severity of the pain goes up and down but never goes away.

“Despite this, I am a positive person. I go to the gym four times a week as recommended by my occupational therapy team, as I need to keep myself as strong as possible for the next time that I have a relapse.

“The team in St Vincent’s have told me that recovery from my condition would be considerably worse except for the fact that I keep myself as fit and strong as possible.”

Hospital stay

His most recent stay in hospital came last year, when he was admitted to St Vincent’s in Dublin on February 17th. He was discharged on March 5th.

“I am back in Vincent’s for my week of IV therapy on Christmas week. There are other people like me who I have spoken to while in the ward that cannot get the vaccine because of their anaphylactic condition,” he says.

“When I have a relapse, I am left paralysed and in excruciating pain, which requires a long inpatient stay in a neurology ward for weeks and sometimes months at time. After my stay in hospital, I require months of physio and occupational therapy to get back to some normality.”

O’Connor says that following a bout of illness in 2014, it took him two years “to get back to some normality”. On that occasion, he decided “to do a PhD to give me a goal and purpose so that I did not wallow in self-pity.

“I was unable to work again as an engineer. I had taught part time in DIT so knew what was involved. During the course of my studies, I taught energy management, climate change and renewable energy part-time at TU Dublin.”

O'Connor has had papers published in the International Journal of Aviation, Aeronautics, and Aerospace, as well as the book Improved Wind Shear Detection for Aviation Operations, published in 2019.

“I have told you this, so that you don’t think that I am some attention-seeking person who wants their spot in the limelight. I am only trying to highlight my position and that my illness prevents me from getting a Covid-19 vaccination,” he says.

“I am in a situation that I cannot get the Covid-19 jab as there is a significant risk that this would cause a relapse of my condition, as this happened previously when I got a flu jab. It resulted in a severe relapse requiring weeks in hospital. I am now in a situation that I cannot go to my gym as I do not have a Covid pass.”

Painful condition

O’Connor says he now has “permanent demyelination of my fingers and toes, which means that there is no insulation to prevent the air getting in, and the cold weather increases the severity of the pain.

“It is like having a hole in your tooth and taking a breath of air on a warm day. It is painful, but do the same on a cold day and the pain is much worse,” he says.

“There needs to be a provision for the small amount of people like me who cannot get the vaccine,” he says. “My physical and mental health cannot take being treated as a leper by barring me from the only activity that is left open to me.”

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times