Once vaccine-hesitant widow urges everyone to get the shot

Rika Johnson is the mother of two adolescent boys that she will have to raise without their father, after her husband lost a months-long battle with COVID-19.

“It was quite sudden because he was doing well, he got transferred out of the ICU after being in there for 3 months,” Johnson said about her husband Jeremy.

The entire family tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-April, and within a few days Jeremy’s cough and chest pain were so severe that he wound up in Burnaby General Hospital. He was later transferred to Royal Columbian, where he died in August.

“I think that we’re very fortunate that we all got to say our goodbyes,” said Johnson. “Because through this whole pandemic there’s been families that didn’t get that chance.”

At the time the family got sick, none of them were eligible for a dose of the vaccine, but Johnson said Jeremy was eager to get it – acknowledging that she was somewhat hesitant at first.

“Just because of my body and reaction. Not because I’m anti-vax,” she said. “I’m 100 per cent for vaccinations, but I just wanted to make sure that I had the time to be able to heal from getting the vaccine if I had a reaction.”

After watching her husband’s long, painful battle with the virus, she is now encouraging everyone to get their shots.

“You don’t know how COVID is going to affect you if you get it,” she said. “If there’s some way you can protect yourself, then you should do it.”

On Saturday, a few thousand people opposed to the vaccines and B.C.’s proof-of-vaccination requirements rallied at the Vancouver Art Gallery for a protest before marching through downtown streets.

The gathering happened just blocks from St. Paul’s Hospital, where emergency room physician Dr. Jeff Yoo says almost all of the people currently being treated for COVID-19 have not been vaccinated.

“Now in this fourth wave, we are really seeing younger patients who were previously healthy, who are getting critically ill and require(ing) intubation,” he said.

Stats from the province back up his anecdotal observations.

In a tweet Friday, Health Minister Adrian Dix shared the number of people in intensive care with COVID-19 by vaccination status.

95% of those in ICU due to COVID-19 today in BC were not fully vaccinated.

See full breakdown: pic.twitter.com/spxmt9IqcC

— Adrian Dix (@adriandix) September 17, 2021

Of the 136 patients, eight were partially vaccinated, seven fully vaccinated, and 121 unvaccinated.

The difference becomes even more stark when accounting for the fact nearly 88 percent of British Columbians have had at least one dose of a vaccine.

“This is really a self-inflicted injury from society. We don’t need to be struggling through this fourth wave, you know?,” said Dr. Yoo. “A lot of these young, healthy patients could have prevented getting ill if they had just gotten vaccinated.”

As she prepares for her late husband’s celebration of life, Johnson is taking this opportunity to reach out to others who may be uncertain about getting the shot in the hopes that her story will convince them to do it.

"You don't want to leave your family members without their loved ones, or children without their fathers, or children without their mothers,” she said, her voice trailing off as she was overcome with emotion.