Some Covid Vaccine Hesitant Now Express Regret
PROVO, Utah – As Mindy Greene spent another day in the Covid ICU listening to the whirring machines now breathing for her 42-year-old husband Russ, she opened her phone and typed a message.
“We didn’t get the vaccine,” she wrote on Facebook. “I read all sorts of things about the vaccine and it scared me. So I made the decision and prayed about it and got the impression that we would be fine. “
They were not.
Her husband, the father of their four children, now hovered between life and death as tentacles of tubes spurted from his body. The patient in the room next to her husband’s had died hours earlier. On that day, July 13th, Ms. Greene decided to add her voice to an unusual group of people speaking out in the polarized national debate about vaccination: the repentant.
“If I had the information I have today, we would have been vaccinated,” Ms. Greene wrote. Come what may, she hit “send”.
Amid a resurgence of coronavirus infections and deaths, some people who once turned down vaccines or simply waited too long are grappling with the aftermath, often in crude, public ways. Some speak of hospital beds, at funerals, and in obituaries of their regrets, the pain of enduring the virus, and watching unvaccinated family members gasp.
“I feel so incredibly guilty,” Ms. Greene said one morning as she sat in the lobby on the fourth floor of the intensive care unit at Utah Valley Hospital in Provo, which overlooks the mountains where her family once hiked and joined the off-road vehicle was on the way. “I still blame myself. Every day.”
The recent surge in infections and hospitalizations among unvaccinated people has brought home the dire reality of the Covid-19 crash for many who thought they had bypassed the pandemic. But now, with anger and fatigue piling up on all sides, the question is whether their stories can actually change one’s mind.
Some people hospitalized with the virus still swear not to get vaccinated, and surveys suggest the majority of unvaccinated Americans are not moving. Doctors at Covid units say some patients still refuse to believe they are infected with anything other than the flu.
“We have people in intensive care with Covid who deny they have Covid,” said Dr. Matthew Sperry, a pulmonologist who treated Mr. Greene. “It doesn’t matter what we say.”
Covid hospital stays in Utah have increased 35 percent in the past two weeks, and Dr. Sperry said the intensive care units in the entire 24-hospital system he works in are 98 percent full.
Still, some hospitals overcrowded with patients in largely conservative, unvaccinated parts of the country have begun recruiting Covid survivors as public health messengers of last resort. The hope is that once-skeptics could convince others to start vaccination campaigns led by President Biden, Dr. Reject Anthony S. Fauci and armies of local doctors and health workers.
They are scared straight stories for a pandemic that thrived on misinformation, fear, and persistent partisan columns about whether or not to get vaccinated.
“People are producing messages from their hospital beds, from the wards,” said Rebecca Weintraub, assistant professor of global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School. “It is the accessibility of the message: ‘I did not protect my own family. Let me help you protect yours. ‘”
In Springfield, Missouri, where coronavirus cases increased this summer, Russell Taylor sat in a hospital gown with an oxygen cannula over his face to testify for vaccination on a hospital video. “I don’t see how I couldn’t get it now,” he said.
A Texas man who had a double lung transplant after contracting the virus urged others to get vaccinated on local television.
July 30, 2021, 7:36 p.m. ET
And in a shaky voice, a hospital clinic administrator in rural Utah described how she suffered double pneumonia and sepsis after choosing not to be vaccinated. Ms. Stormy said it took her weeks to muster the courage to comment on a video posted by her local health department. She only did this with her first name because she feared Covid deniers would say she made it all up.
“I was absolutely afraid of the negative aspects that could arise from it,” she said in an interview this week. “I was part of a problem that I wanted to avoid.”
Some people who were quick to adopt the vaccines are now choosing to talk about family members who have not. It was a role Kimberle Jones never wanted, but one she took on after her daughter Erica Thompson, 37, a St. Louis mother, died on July 4th, nearly three months after she had what she believed to be a dire asthma attack had.
“I want to be a voice for her,” said Ms. Jones, who got the vaccine as soon as possible. “I really think my daughter wants me to say, ‘Go and get the vaccine.'”
It was advice that Ms. Thompson, like 39 percent of American adults, failed to take heed of.
Her mother said Ms. Thompson was suspicious of how quickly the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines were introduced – the culmination of decades of scientific research. She also believed that the government-led campaign was a conspiracy against black people like her, according to her mother. Vaccination rates for black and Hispanic Americans lag behind the white populations, a loophole researchers attribute to suspicion rooted in a history of medical discrimination and lack of access and outreach.
After earning $ 10 an hour in call center jobs, Ms. Thompson had recently found a dream job as medical coding. She went to the hospital in mid-May with a cough and shortness of breath and was on a ventilator within days. Ms. Jones said she sang “Beat It” when her daughter was sedated and promised to be there when she woke up.
“Her last words to me were, ‘Mom, I can’t breathe,'” Ms. Jones said.
In Utah, Ms. Greene said her husband left family vaccination decisions in her hands. She originally planned to have the injection as soon as her neighbor, a doctor, got his.
Understand the state of vaccine mandates in the United States
But she had concerns about the vaccines and found many reasons to hesitate when scrolling through social media or talking to friends of anti-vaccination users. “You have to see that,” one wrote to her.
Clicking a few links led them into a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories touted by anti-vaccine lawyers and YouTubers, and videos in which anti-vaccine doctors and nurses denounced the Covid-19 shots as “bio-weapons.”
Covid fell into the family world in late June when their two eldest sons brought the virus home from a church camp where nine boys were infected. The virus swept through the family. Then came the day when Mr. Greene, a hunter who hiked over mountains, had to be hospitalized when his oxygen levels crumbled.
Now they measure the time in “Covid days”. Ms. Greene wakes up dry many mornings. Her four children – ages 8 to 18 – stay home while she visits the hospital as they cannot tell their father about dance classes or hit deep outfield during a baseball game.
There are uncertain months ahead of us as doctors attempt to repair Mr. Greene’s damaged lungs and wean him off a ventilator. He was briefly transferred from the hospital to a long-term acute care center last week, a hopeful moment. But the doctors found a hole in his lungs and he was taken back to the intensive care unit.
“I will always regret listening to the misinformation,” said Ms. Greene. “They create fear.”
Even after Mr Greene was put on a ventilator in early July, vaccine skeptics Ms. Greene knew wrote their links to misinformation about fertility and hidden vaccine deaths. They sent her boxes of horse medicine that was falsely touted as a Covid cure. A business partner of her husband argued against the vaccination when he visited Ms. Greene in the lobby of the intensive care unit.
Health experts and scientific studies have shown that the vaccines are overwhelmingly safe, effective, and the best weapon against infectious new variants of the coronavirus.
Before Covid, family life was anchored by their faith and fellowship in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Now church friends and neighbors are bringing dinner into the house and sending news of Mr. Greene to the ward.
Ms. Greene begins her hospital visits with a spiritual reading and ends each evening by gathering her children – Hunter, 18; Easton, 15; Betty, 13; and Rushton, 8 – to talk about her father and the prayers he needs.
Their views changed when the virus ravaged her husband’s body and doctors put him on a ventilator. They changed as she spoke to doctors and nurses about the unvaccinated patients pouring into the hospitals and sat outside the intensive care unit listening to rescue helicopters arrive. Ms. Greene said she made an appointment to have her children vaccinated.