This Thanksgiving will be a tough one for Carol Charles and her family.
The 50-year-old from Regina usually travels to her younger sister’s house in Edmonton for the holiday.
But Jennifer Rosebluff-Thomas died of COVID-19 last month. She was about 29 weeks pregnant with her ninth child. She was also unvaccinated and contracted the more dangerous Delta variant.
“When they did the emergency C-section, they explained to me that it was to help my sister get more oxygen into her lungs, and they confirmed at that same time that she wasn’t vaccinated and that it was preventable,” Charles said.
“That was the most hurtful part, when they told me it was preventable.”
Charles said she last spoke with Rosebluff-Thomas days before the C-section when her sister told her she was dying.
“I told her that I was going to be with the kids and not to worry,” Charles said, fighting back tears.
Rosebluff-Thomas delivered a baby girl in late August. The baby survived, but the mother died a few days later, Charles said.
She said her 35-year-old sister, who was a single, stay-at-home mother, leaves another eight children between the ages of one and 19. Charles is taking care of five of the children in Regina and the other three are with their father in Alberta.
She isn’t sure yet where the baby will be raised.
“My sister was so giving. It was hard for her to say no to her kids or anybody,” Charles said.
“She was such a giver and it’s just not fair that she is not here.”
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada recommend that pregnant women get two doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, recently stressed that pregnant women are at a high risk of severe outcomes from the infection.
“With a lot of misinformation about pregnancy and vaccinations circulating online, I would like to assure Albertans that mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are safe for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding,” she tweeted last month.
“There is also no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines cause fertility problems.”
Kerry Williamson, a spokesman for Alberta Health Services, said that from July 15 to Sept. 28 of this year, 14 pregnant women were admitted to intensive care units.
All of them had been unvaccinated, he said.
“We need those who are pregnant, trying to become pregnant or have recently delivered to get both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible,” Williamson wrote in an email.
“Vaccines are safe and effective, and they are the best way to protect you and your baby from COVID-19.”
He said there is no data available about how many pregnant Albertans have died from the virus.
And while it is too late to save her sister, Charles said she hopes her story will encourage other pregnant women to get immunized.
“(COVID-19 vaccines) aren’t guaranteed, but it helps,” Charles said.
“It might not stop you from getting sick, but it will help you get through it.”
She said she spoke with her sister in the spring about getting immunized. Since Rosebluff-Thomas didn’t express any opposition to the vaccines, Charles thought she would get the shots.
She has no idea why her sister didn’t, she said.
A GoFundMe page was recently set up by one of Rosebluff-Thomas’s friends to help support her children.
“Jennifer was a beautiful person, with a beautiful soul,” the page says. “She loved all her children and did her best to give them everything and more.”
Charles said her nieces and nephews are still in shock from their mother’s death and that Thanksgiving will be difficult for them because they will not be together.
“This was our holiday and that is what we were getting ready for next.”
She will still have Thanksgiving dinner this weekend with five of the children. Charles said she will especially miss her sister keeping her company in the kitchen while she prepares the meal.
“It doesn’t seem real, but it is,” Charles said of her sister’s death.
“It’s a whole new life for all of us without her.”