An Alexandra man who suffered an injury from a Covid-19 vaccine has been denied a medical exemption — despite being advised not to get the second shot.
Ben Jonutz was diagnosed with acute pericarditis after receiving the Pfizer BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on November 2.
In the days following, Jonutz, with partner Mikayla Wilson in tow, endured four ambulance rides, trips to both Dunstan and Dunedin Hospitals, multiple cardiologist and GP appointments along with a slew of medical tests.
However, the couple struggled to get support from ACC or the Ministry of Health.
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".
In mid-November, ACC informed Jonutz that cover for his injury "had not been determined" and it was unable to consider his application.
Without ACC, Jonutz continued work as a mechanic, agitating his condition and causing him to collapse at work.
The strain of the situation took a toll on the couple, Jonutz said.
"It's very stressful on our relationship and everyday life — being 26 years old and 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 Jonutz's claim was never declined but was "held" while ACC sought information to determine cover.
"We appreciate three months may feel like a long time to wait for a decision. However, treatment injury claims can be more complex and as such usually take longer to determine than other claims. We often need to gather full medical notes and then seek advice from an external clinical specialist before making a cover decision."
The claim had since been accepted and ACC provided backdated weekly compensation and treatment-related costs, she said.
"We will continue to work with him to understand any further treatment and support he requires."
The Covid-19 vaccine became available in New Zealand in February last year.
Between February 18, 2021, and 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.
Jonutz was advised not to receive the second Pfizer vaccination.
A family history of blood clots ruled out the AstraZeneca jab.
Jonutz's GP applied to the Ministry of Health for a medical exemption, however it was declined on the basis he could receive the AstraZeneca shot.
When contacted by the Otago Daily Times, the ministry said it could not comment on an individual's clinical circumstances but did say temporary medical exemption (TME) applications were reviewed by a panel of clinical experts with the director-general of health 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 to protect against infection and disease including Covid-19.
"There are very few situations where a vaccine is contra-indicated, and a medical exemption is infrequently granted."
As of March 7, the ministry had received 2249 TME applications.
Of those 736 were granted, 813 declined, and 111 were still open.
The remaining 589 were incomplete and unable to proceed.
The couple approached Southland MP Joseph Mooney who described their situation as "concerning".
"I'm concerned whoever is making this decision is not properly looking at the material provided to them," he added.
Mooney wrote to Health Minister Andrew Little and Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins on March 8 regarding Jonutz's situation, but had yet to receive a reply.