A young woman with an undiagnosed severe allergy that causes her face and throat to swell and blocks her airways is battling to get a COVID-19 vaccine exemption after several doctors advised her against taking the jab for fear it will trigger another potentially fatal anaphylactic shock.

The absence of a vaccine certificate meant that Maria Ciappara, 23, had to miss her graduation since only vaccinated Mcast students were allowed in.

“I feel very defeated. I’m not an anti-vaxxer. If I could, I’d be the first to take the vaccine.

“But, over the past months, so many doctors have advised me not to take it… I’m not asking to be vaccinated to go to parties. But I don’t want to be a second-class citizen,” she said, adding there was already talk of restaurants and even employers requesting jab certificates in future.

Mystery allergy

As she recounted her story, Ciappara explained that, as a child, she suffered a severe allergic reaction, the cause of which was never identified.

Then, this February, she suffered her second one.

This happened at about the time when the COVID-19 vaccine started being rolled out.

As she visited doctors to get to the bottom of her condition – and treat a range of side effects such as low blood pressure, shortness of breath as well as several gastrointestinal issues – many advised her not to take the then new vaccine for fear it could trigger her allergic reaction that resulted in her entering anaphylaxis.

This makes the immune system release a flood of chemicals that can cause a person to go into shock. The blood pressure drops suddenly and airways narrow, blocking breathing.

Then, a few months later, she experienced her third episode.

Again, the cause remains unknown. The two recent episodes led to hospitalisation.

A graduation disappointment

Meanwhile, Ciappara was thrilled to hear that graduation ceremonies were going to happen as COVID restrictive measures were eased.

After completing her Mcast course in animal management and veterinary nursing, she looked forward to the ceremony planned for September 10.

But she soon learned that only vaccinated students would be allowed to attend. That was when she contacted the health authorities who informed her that people with allergies were being given the option to get the vaccine under medical supervision and was told the contact the hospital resuscitation team.

She did so but was advised against the vaccine, given her recent medical history.

“I was told that the risks outweigh the benefits,” she said.

So, she went back to the health authorities who still refused to issue the exemption unless provided with medical evidence.

“I told them they had full access to my medical records and could see the evidence,” Ciappara said.

“But they did not. I went back to the doctors who had advised me not to take the coronavirus vaccine but none of them want do take the responsibility to put it in writing,” she added.

She missed her graduation.

At some point, she was even told to try and take the vaccine under supervision and “see what happens”.

“But I’m scared. It’s like telling someone with a nut allergy to eat a handful of nuts ‘then we see what happens’... I feel very defeated,” she said.

“Anaphylaxis can be deadly and I don’t want to have to go through that. It starts with an all-round burning sensation and rash. It feels as though someone threw acid on me. Then, my face swells up and the worst part is my throat swells up too, narrowing my airways and potentially stopping me from breathing.”

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