Alberta man drops opposition to COVID-19 vaccine after traumatic ICU stay

A Calgarian who adamantly opposed COVID-19 vaccinations until he caught the virus and spent nearly two weeks in an ICU fighting for his life is now sharing his story in hopes it’ll persuade other vaccine-hesitant people to change their minds.

“There was one point where I was still intubated, the trauma of what I saw, I wanted to check out,” Bernie Cook told CBC’s Edmonton AM in an interview Monday after Alberta Health Services tweeted about his case to encourage people to get vaccinated.

“I remember just going like this [using hand motions to signal it’s done], it’s over, to the nurse.”

But his nurse at the Peter Lougheed Centre was having none of it.

“She came over to me and she held my hand and said, ‘Not a chance.’ She was stern. She was like that mom I needed in the moment. I would not have come out of that if it wasn’t for her.”

Prior to coming down with symptoms at the end of August, Cook was fully against COVID-19 vaccinations.

“It’s the same story we are all telling, all of us anti-vaxxers,” said the 46-year-old.

“My rights, fear about vaccine side effects. Yes, there are people getting side effects. And it’s a factor that us anti-vaxxers are struggling with. I feel that we are not asking the right questions.”

Cook wasn’t alone with his fears and questions. 

As of Monday, there are 21,307 active COVID-19 cases in the province. More than 70 per cent of active cases have not received any vaccine. Conversely, 70.6 per cent of Alberta’s total population has received at least one dose of a vaccine.

Bernie Cook recovers from COVID-19 in the COVID unit of the Peter Lougheed Centre in Calgary on Sept. 21, 2021, after being discharged from the hospital’s ICU. (Leah Hennel/Alberta Health Services)

About 83 per cent of Alberta’s eligible population (over the age of 12) has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 73.8 per cent have received two. Of the province’s total population, about 62.8 per cent have had both doses of vaccine. 

Thousands of Albertans have taken to the streets to protest vaccine mandates.

Meanwhile, Cook said his questions about vaccines have evolved. 

“As I am going through each of my own questions, my own doubts, I realized that some of them were unfounded. They weren’t real reasons for not getting the vaccine,” he said.

And for health-care workers, Cook has a new respect and admiration.

“I don’t know how I am going to repay her, but I feel that she saved my life that day,” he said of the stern, motherly nurse.

“They have my undying gratitude, appreciation. They are unsung heroes and they need recognition beyond what they are getting.”

Cook uses a walker during his first therapy session in the COVID unit at the Peter Lougheed Centre in Calgary after being discharged from the hospital’s ICU. (Leah Hennel/Alberta Health Services)

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