This week, AM analysts want to offer a more qualitative look at misinformation regarding COVID-19 vaccines. While statistics and broader analyses offer a clear picture about the larger problem convincing Americans to take the vaccine, a big part of the story often gets overlooked: the human cost of misinformation.
For example, take the story of Olivia Guidry, a young nurse from Louisiana working at Ochsner Lafayette General Medical Center. Despite her occupation, Guidry was vaccine-hesitant and had fallen under the grips of misinformation.
On July 11th, 2020, Guidry tweeted, “Am I the only one thinking they are to see how much they can control us? We are straight up a social experiment.”
Just under a year later, Guidry died in the Intensive Care Unit battling COVID-19 on July 10th. Now her family members are also sick with the virus, and a fundraiser is being created to help offset the costs they will soon face.
Another tragic story is that of Randy Hellmann, a trade union official for the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME). While misinformation was slowing the rollout of vaccines, Hellmann was diagnosed with the virus just two weeks before his scheduled vaccination appointment. Calling from his hospital bed, Hellmann called his AFSCME “union comrade”, Pat Rensing, and asked her to make him a promise:
“I need a promise from you, Pat. I want to be used as the poster child for the vaccination. I don’t want anyone to go through what I’m going through.” Hellmann passed away at the age of 58, on March 13th, 2021.
Or take the case of Quentin Bowen, a 41-year-old farmer from Nebraska. After not contracting the disease while his wife and child had it, coupled with decreasing numbers of cases, Bowen didn’t feel that receiving the vaccine was necessary. Bowen started feeling ill one day, and after several days of his condition not improving, decided to get tested for COVID. Upon receiving a positive test, Bowen left with a cough medicine prescription.
A few days later, his condition still had not improved. Upon waking up one morning in a coughing fit, his wife brought him to the emergency room where a CT scan showed “humongous” blood clots in his lungs. He would spend a week in the hospital receiving large amounts of oxygen through a nasal tube, as well as blood thinners to counteract the clots.
While he has recovered now and intends to get vaccinated as soon as he is eligible in a few months, he laments not taking the vaccine earlier. He is still dealing with side effects that significantly hinder his ability to complete most of his farm duties and sleeps with an oxygen canister. He also has a message for the vaccine skeptics, “…trust the science, forget the politics and the social media, and get vaccinated… there’s nothing in this vaccine that can do to you what this disease can do to you, so why take the chance?”
Or one might imagine the position that doctors and nurses find themselves in when treating critically ill COVID patients. Now that the vaccine has been available for almost everyone for several months, the avoidability of those deaths must take an even heavier toll on the health workers. Dr. Britney Cobia, of Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham, wrote on Facebook, “One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late.” As we have reported before, nearly all current COVID hospitalizations and deaths are from unvaccinated people.
As more tragic stories like these make their way into news and media, public health agencies might do well to consider adding a more ‘human’ element to their vaccine hesitancy campaigns. The death of friends and family seems to be a strong tipping point for many of the vaccine-hesitant or COVID-19 deniers. The addition of more faces and stories of avoidable suffering from COVID-19 that are circulated might increase vaccination rates.
AM LLC is currently working nationwide with multiple states and public health agencies on testing, contact tracing, and vaccination programs. Counties, states, or K-12 partners that are interested in partnering with AM for COVID-19 mitigation support should contact Dr. Christopher K Orlea at firstname.lastname@example.org.