A London-based Catholic priest who was admitted to hospital with Covid-19 has recalled his “frightening” experience of the “havoc” caused by the virus and has encouraged all to get vaccinated.
Fr Albert Ofere, parish priest of English Martyrs, Wembley Park, London, described the vaccine as “a blessing” and “a gift from God” as he urged people to listen to the facts and speak to their GP to make an informed decision about the vaccine, rather than being influenced by “outlandish conjectures” attempting to dissuade people from getting it.
His appeal has been echoed by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who recently received the first dose of the vaccine and “strongly” encouraged others to do so in an effort to support the NHS, as it continues in its battle to save lives amid the deadly pandemic.
Recalling the harrowing experience he suffered after contracting the virus and being admitted to hospital, Fr Ofere warned the public that Covid-19 is real and is a danger to all, as he criticised those attempting to downplay the severity of the virus.
“I had a near-death experience contracting Covid-19 not long ago,” Fr Ofere said in a video message, posted by the Diocese of Westminster. “I was admitted at Northwick Park Hospital and it was frightening and not an experience anyone should go through.
“I speak from experience of what I have been through, that Covid-19 is real and is causing havoc. We are all affected directly or indirectly regardless of your nationality, race or class.”
The Nigerian priest explained that he suffered greatly from the virus, despite being an active and healthy person.
“I can only imagine how it affected those with underlying health issues. It’s not surprising that people have died. I was saved by prayers and medication. Indeed, God saved me. I am a testimony to God’s goodness and love and the power in prayer.”
Recalling the “great joy” he felt when Covid-19 vaccines were approved, Fr Ofere said this emotion turned to surprise as he discovered that some members of the public said they would turn down the vaccine and some were even attempting to dissuade others from receiving it, going so far as to claim the virus isn’t real.
“It was with great joy that through the ingenuity of science vaccines have been made. I couldn’t wait to receive mine but I was surprised to hear that some people have said that they would not take the vaccine and are encouraging others not to take the vaccine,” he said.
“I have even heard some people say that Covid-19 is not real but I am here to tell you that it is real. If you have been through what I have been through you will not hesitate to go for your vaccine.”
While he said does not want to interfere with anyone’s conscience, Fr Ofere urged people to “listen to facts and not some conjectures”, including some “very outlandish” posts on social media, which present so-called reasons for not being vaccinated.
“Look at the facts, speak to your GP. If you prefer, speak to your ethnic GP, get answers to any questions you might have. Importantly pray, pray about it and then make an informed decision to have your vaccine,” he said.
Citing the words of Pope Francis, Fr Ofere stressed that it is everyone’s “ethical duty not to only protect ourselves but to protect others”.
“Pope Francis supports the vaccine and so do I. As Jesus says, ‘I’ve come to give you life, abundant life’. So go get your vaccine so you can live your life to the full.”
Fr Ofere pointed out that the current situation provides a time for everyone to “stand together in solidarity and be united as a human race”.
“Regardless of your nationality, culture, race or origin, the vaccine is a blessing, a gift from God, which will help us to build our future,” he said. “Again, Covid-19 does not discriminate, it is killing people and it is wreaking havoc. The vaccine offers the much-needed help we all are craving today. I encourage everyone to receive the vaccine when it is offered.”
Bishop Paul McAleenan, in his capacity as Bishop for Ethnic Chaplains for the Diocese of Westminster and as Lead Bishop for Migrant and Refugee Issues for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, reiterated Fr Ofere’s words, describing the vaccine as “a blessing”.
He thanked Fr Ofere for sharing his experience and stressed that all should listen to his message.
“Fr Albert Ofere urges us to listen to the voice of reason, to be united in protecting ourselves and others by being vaccinated,” he said. “His message is for everyone, regardless of race, culture or origin.
“In short to accept vaccination is an act of love. We rejoice that Fr Albert has recovered and we thank him for his witness and for his passionate words of encouragement. Let what he says remove any doubts or anxiety you may have and make us all eager and willing to be vaccinated against the virus.”
Cardinal Nichols described receiving the first dose of the vaccine as “such a kind and cheerful experience”.
Speaking the following day, he said: “First dose of the Covid-19 vaccine yesterday! Such a kind and cheerful experience. I strongly encourage everyone to take the vaccine. Let’s play our part and support NHS staff as they fight to save so many lives. Please, please continue to pray too for an end to this pandemic and for all who have lost their lives.”
The calls encouraging the public to receive the vaccination come as Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that a new variant of the virus, which was first identified in London and the South East, may be associated with a higher degree of transmission and mortality, resulting in “intense pressure” on the NHS.
“It is largely the impact of this new variant that means the NHS is under such intense pressure,” Mr Johnson said. “It is more important than ever that we all remain vigilant in following the rules and that we stay at home, protect the NHS and thereby save lives.”
However, Mr Johnson also stressed that “all current evidence continues to show that both the vaccines we are currently using remain effective both against the old variant and this new variant”.
Noting that the immunisation programme continues at an “unprecedented rate”, he added: “I want to thank all of you who have come forward to get your jabs, because, by doing that, you are protecting yourselves, your communities and, of course, our NHS.
“And I say to everyone, when that letter arrives, please don’t hesitate to book that appointment and get this life-saving protection, because this is the best and fastest way for us all to defeat this virus and get our lives back to normal.”
Picture: A dose of the Covid-19 vaccination of BioNTech and Pfizer is distributed. (CNS photo/BioNTech SE 2020 handout via Reuters).