KEY POINTS

  • The nurse received two doses of Sputnik V when he traveled to Russia in the spring to take care of his sick father
  • His employer doesn't consider him fully vaccinated as Sputnik V has yet to be approved for use by WHO and Health Canada
  • He was told that immediate revaccination with an approved vaccine was his only option

A 43-year-old nurse in Canada fears that he will lose his job after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine that has yet to be approved for use by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Toronto General Hospital nurse Denis Varaka received two doses of the Sputnik V vaccine during his trip to Russia in the spring, Canadian public broadcaster CBC reported.

Toronto's University Health Network (UHN), which includes the hospital Varaka works for, then announced in an email in August that it would require all employees to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 8. Those who fail to comply would be put on a short leave of absence, with termination to follow if the employee still doesn't meet the criteria, the outlet said.

Varaka, however, said he was told by his employer that he isn't considered fully vaccinated because Russia's Sputnik V has yet to be officially authorized for use by WHO or federal agency Health Canada, which meant it was excluded from UHN's "accepted" vaccine list.

He had traveled to Russia in the spring to look after his sick father and stayed in the country for two months with his roommate and friend, Vlad Bobko, who is also Russian Canadian.

Varaka, a cancer survivor, said he knew before heading to Russia that he could get one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in Canada, but the timeline for the second shot was uncertain, potentially with a delay of months. This was the reason why Varaka and his friend decided to get two doses of Sputnik V.

The only solution for Varaka to keep his job is to get two more doses of an approved vaccine, but he is wary of the health implications of doing that so soon. Additionally, he claimed he was not given any other option when he asked both his employer and his union about his case.

"This is so upsetting. I can't believe it," said Varaka, who explained that he did a lot of research on vaccines and even spoke with a doctor in Russia.

"I thought I was doing a good thing. Vaccinating myself, and when I come back, I am protecting my patients. But it turned out to be the complete opposite," added the nurse, who received his second shot in Moscow three months ago.

The Ontario Nurses Association, which represents Varaka, also indicated it believes Varaka's options are limited.

A spokesperson for the UHN confirmed in a statement to the CBC that only vaccines greenlighted by the WHO will be accepted for a person to qualify as "fully vaccinated."

"We provide care for a great many immunocompromised patients," the statement said. "This needs to be a place that is as safe as we can make it for our patients and our staff. We are currently at 95% vaccinated and we are aiming for 100%."

Varaka has since asked for regular COVID-19 testing or a six-month grace period to keep his job before getting another vaccine, but he said his employer told him that he won't get an extension and that immediate revaccination was his only option.

The six-month gap was reportedly suggested to Varaka by the Moscow-based Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, which developed Sputnik V.

"I am not against the vaccine policy. I fully support it," Varaka said. "I feel I am vaccinated, but whatever is happening now, it's just complete nonsense to me. I feel very, very sad, and I feel betrayed over this."

Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the University of Saskatchewan who received Johnson & Johnson's one-shot vaccine in the spring and two doses of Pfizer in the summer, said the option of revaccination offered to Varaka is "probably safe." While she acknowledged that research on the topic is still limited, Rasmussen explained that she feels there is enough evidence to suggest mixing vaccines is safe.

"It's anecdotal ... but people are getting different mix-and-match [vaccines], and I have yet to hear of anyone having serious adverse reactions," the virologist was quoted as saying by CBC.

flu-shot-1719334_1920 Representation. Denis Varaka, 43, is at risk of losing his job as a nurse after his Sputnik V jab failed to qualify him as fully vaccinated. Photo: Pixabay