CAMPAIGNING mother and son, Lee Martin and Caroline Wheeler from Enniskillen, have decided to withdraw their legal challenge with the Department of Health as they don’t want to “damage public confidence” in the Covid booster vaccination programme, they said.
Their decision to withdraw their judicial review into the delay in Lee receiving his Covid jab was also based on how the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) changed their priorities when it came to the booster vaccine roll-out.
Lee is the only person in Northern Ireland, and less than 100 people worldwide, to be diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder called diploid triploid mosaicism (DSM).
Classed as an extremely vulnerable adult, Lee’s situation was more complicated than most during the pandemic, yet he was in category four on a priority list under the Department of Health’s Covid-19 vaccination programme.
This placed 36-year-old Lee below some healthcare staff in priority and, also went against the JCVI.
Fearing the worst for her son should he have to wait too long for a vaccine, his mother and full-time carer, Caroline, resorted to legal action in an attempt to fast-track him for a jab.
Last year, the campaigning duo made headlines when they won High Court permission to challenge the Department for Health over their prioritisation of the vaccination programme
Lee issued legal proceedings against the Department and the Western Health Trust in early 2021 with further grounds of challenge involving claims of irrationality and breach of human rights.
Although he received his vaccine before his case came before the court, Caroline and Lee continued with their legal challenge with other vulnerable adults and their families in mind and to highlight the difficulties this section of our society often faces in care provision and priority.
“Our client brought the judicial review proceedings because of the delay in receiving his vaccination, the refusal of the Department and Trust to vaccinate him when asked, and because of concerns that the Department had unlawfully prioritised back-room staff ahead of all clinically vulnerable individuals,” a representative from K R Law said.
The Department for Health had argued that, unlike the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland was not required by law to follow JCVI guidance and so the review was “academic”.
Mr Justice Colton rejected this argument and held that: “the issue of priority for vaccinations is likely to arise in the future and there is merit in a review of how priorities were dealt with in the initial phase of the Covid-19 vaccination process.”
Then, in January 2021, Professor Harnden of the JCVI publicly stated that JCVI did not consider the decision to prioritise backroom staff complied with its guidance.
When it came time to draw up a priority scheme for the booster vaccination programme, the NI Department for Health only prioritised frontline staff during the roll-out.
“In light of this change of course and because our client does not wish to damage public confidence in the vaccination programme at a time when the booster programme is ongoing, our client has agreed to withdraw the judicial review,” a statement from K R Law reads.
The court has ordered the Department for Health pay Lee and Caroline’s costs in the matter.
The mother and son wish to thank NILSA for the grant of legal aid to take the case to court and Mencap and Access Social Care for their support.
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