'This is no joke': N.L. woman's mom, stepfather fighting COVID-19 in intensive care

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Louisa Higgins says she's living a nightmare that could have been avoided with the COVID-19 vaccine.

Her mother and stepfather are fighting for their lives in an intensive care unit in central Newfoundland, sick with the novel coronavirus. Neither of them are vaccinated, she said.

Higgins isn't vaccinated either, she said in an interview Wednesday. That's not because she was against vaccination, it's because she used to worry it could hurt her, she said.

But all that has changed. "You've got to get it," she said about the COVID-19 vaccines. "If you don't, you could end up in the ICU just like my mom and I don't want that to happen to anybody else … If I could save one person from going into that ICU, then I'm going to do it."

She added about her mom and stepdad, "I know that if they had their vaccines, they would not be in the ICU right now."

Higgins said she's going to get vaccinated and she's trying to convince her brother to do the same. She said she hopes everyone else in the Botwood and Bishop's Falls area of central Newfoundland will get a shot, too.

Higgins's mother and stepfather were part of a cluster of cases that emerged among the congregation at the First United Pentecostal Church in Bishop's Falls, N.L., a community of about 2,500 people, she said. 

People in the church began testing positive after a guest was brought in from New Brunswick, both Higgins and Pastor Leroy Gee told The Canadian Press. The woman had no symptoms and had no idea she was sick — she tested positive when she got back to New Brunswick, Higgins and Gee said.

Higgins's mother and stepfather are part of Gee's congregation and live in Botwood, N.L., which has a population of around 2,700 people and is about 20 kilometres from the church. 

Provincial public health officials first announced the outbreak in central Newfoundland last week. There were 56 cases connected to it as of Wednesday, officials said. 

About 85 per cent of the province's 132 active reported cases involve partially or unvaccinated people, Dr. Rosann Seviour, the province's acting chief medical officer of health, said Wednesday. Less than four per cent of fully vaccinated people who had contracted COVID-19 had to be hospitalized, Seviour added.

Gee said earlier this week that he was fully vaccinated. He said he didn't tell his congregants what they should or should not do when it came to getting vaccinated. "When they asked what they should do, I advised them what I had done," he said.

Meanwhile, the provincial government is considering making it mandatory for people to prove they're fully vaccinated if they want to attend church services in person. 

Premier Andrew Furey had a phone call with provincial religious leaders Tuesday, during which he discussed the importance of the COVID-19 vaccines and vaccination passports, according to an emailed statement from a spokesperson in the premier's office.

As for Higgins, she said her family is suffering along with her mother and stepfather, putting in long, sleepless nights, waiting for any bit of news. Because of public health protocols, nobody can visit them in the hospital, she said. 

Her advice to people is clear: "This is no joke," she said. "I don't want people to not take the vaccines because they're scared like I was … I just want everybody to be safe and not to go through what I'm going through right now with my family."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 6, 2021.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press


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