“If they had had the vaccine, at least one of them would be here today”

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His father, Basil, who before his retirement worked in property management, was born in Madeira and after about a year in Wales his wife and Gonçalves’ brother Shaul decided to move to Portugal and settle down. in Lisbon. Shaul, who worked as a digital animator, lived with his girlfriend about 15 minutes from their parents’ home.

Even with his family abroad, Francis remained in close contact and the year the pandemic hit, he had planned a wine tour in Portugal with his wife, crossing France and Spain.

Instead, during the lockups, they would talk at least every other day, either on Whatsapp or via video call. His parents, he said, appeared to take the virus seriously, wearing masks and using hand sanitizer. They had never objected to their children being vaccinated against all kinds of diseases in their youth, so he had no reason to suspect otherwise.

But over time, in conversations with his parents, anti-vaccine manufactures began to come out. Sometimes he would be able to challenge their more sinister claims, such as vaccines giving people cancer, but often he would find it difficult to refute the deliberately baffling propaganda his parents were increasingly drawn into, especially on Youtube.

“You are bombarded from all sides the moment you look at it,” he says. “Something else appears because it’s the algorithm.”

Francis received his second dose of the Pfizer vaccine in June and his wife the following month. He told his parents over the phone in an attempt to encourage them and said their response was a “Oh no, what did you do?” “.

He is still trying to unlock their phones to determine exactly when Portuguese authorities offered them the vaccine. The two suffered from their own health complications: his father had heart problems while his mother suffered from Parkinson’s disease, celiac disease and autoimmune disease, so he assumes they would have been on top. from the list.

As for his brother, he says the couple never discussed it. “He always took it [Covid] very seriously, ”he says. “I never really thought he would suddenly start to backfire on the vaccinations.”

On July 6, his father was hospitalized for a routine procedure to treat kidney stones, and two days later the family gathered for a meal with his brother and girlfriend. A few days later, they all got sick.

The first time Francis found out something was wrong was on a video call with his parents when he noticed that they both seemed to be having a hard time. Worried, he phoned his brother who admitted that they had all tested positive for Covid.

From there, things quickly unfolded. Both parents were taken to hospital on Tuesday. Her father died that afternoon and her mother was placed in a induced coma. On Wednesday he spoke to his brother and could see he was deteriorating. A few days later, Shaul’s girlfriend (who, although she was not vaccinated, had recovered from the virus) called to say that he had died of heart failure in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.

Meanwhile, Francis had attempted to get a PCR test and flights and eventually traveled to Portugal early the following week.

After a few days of negotiations with the hospital, he was allowed to enter the Covid department in full PPE to see his mother. She was lying on her stomach and tied to a ventilator and he noticed that the nurses had tied her hair in a knot. He prayed at her bedside and told her he loved her. “I said if it’s really bad and you can’t take it anymore, it doesn’t matter if you go, you’ll be fine,” Francis remembers.

The next day, the hospital called to tell him that she was dead and he sat alone in his brother’s apartment. “I was totally alone,” he says.

A few weeks later, he remains stunned by grief. He has trouble sleeping and is plagued by anxiety and guilt – as well as anger that social media companies aren’t doing more to stem the tide of disinformation on their platforms.

He says Facebook removed his alleged abuse from his page when he reported it, but more anti-vaccines are emerging quickly.

Like reviewing the possessions of his family members, he says fighting the lies they’ve been subjected to online is a brutal and exhausting process – but one he’s determined to persevere with.

“If they had the vaccine, I would have at least one here with me,” he says. “I will continue to campaign for as long as it takes. I will continue to do this because it will save lives.

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