Brian Mittge Commentary: Too Late for Themselves, Dying COVID Patients Say to Vaccinate

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This has been a whirlwind of a week, as COVID-19 cases continue to spike, hospitalizations hit their highest levels since the start of the pandemic, people pack the Lewis County Courthouse to push (successfully) for the fair to stay open, and Gov. Jay Inslee declares mandatory vaccinations for teachers and indoor mask orders for everyone.

Whew.

There is so much to say about all of these developments. But I’m not going to say any of it.

Instead, this column is going to give voice to a group with a pretty important perspective: unvaccinated individuals who caught COVID-19 and lived just long enough to gain a new point of view in the hardest way possible.

People like Kristen McMullen, a 30-year-old mother who was only able to hold her newborn daughter, Summer, for a moment after giving birth by emergency C-section in Florida. Very ill with COVID-19, McMullen, her lips blue from lack of oxygen, was wheeled away from her daughter and taken to the ICU, where her condition worsened. She died earlier this month, 10 days after holding her newborn for the first and last time.

“She would say that she was scared and that she didn’t want to die,” her aunt Melissa Syverson said, struggling to talk in between sobs. “She was fighting to get back to the baby.”

A photo shows McMullen cradling her newborn, a pained yet joyous smile barely visible under the oxygen mask she wore as she struggled to breathe.

McMullen was not vaccinated, her husband said. She was concerned about a potential impact of the vaccine on her unborn child. We can all understand that. However, studies are showing two important facts: first, that the vaccine is indeed safe for pregnant women and their babies, and that pregnant women face a higher than normal risk of COVID-19 complications and severe illness.

Or consider Mkayla Robinson, an eighth-grader in Mississippi. The 13-year-old honor student came home from high school with a sore throat a week ago Wednesday, tested positive for COVID-19 last Friday, and died last Saturday.

Her death came just weeks after her high school’s former band director and his wife died of COVID-19.

Mississippi has the nation’s second-lowest vaccination rate, with 36% of the state fully vaccinated. Lewis County’s rate is almost identical, with only 37.6% of our county’s residents fully vaccinated as of Aug. 14.

An Arkansas doctor calls it heartwrenching to have people come into the hospital with regret.

Dr. Ryan Dare, an infectious diseases physician at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, said patients have told him “if they could do it all over again, they would have the vaccine in a second.”

Further proof that the virus can hit even young, healthy people comes from Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Dion Dawkins, 27, who said his recent hospitalization with COVID-19 was “one of the lowest points I’ve ever been.”

Dawkins had just had his second vaccination, but full protection takes two weeks. His body hadn’t had the time necessary to fully develop immunity after the second shot.

Possibly due to the antibodies he’d already developed from the vaccines, though, Dawkins survived. Still, the $68 million player returned to his team having lost 16 pounds.

“I wish I could have been fully vaccinated,” he said, noting that he delayed getting the vaccine at first because of so much information — and misinformation — swirling around.

George Bishop, pastor at Impact Church in Jacksonville, Florida, saw six of his church members, all unvaccinated, die over the course of 10 days. Four of them were healthy and younger than age 35.

“It’s very frustrating knowing that these were avoidable deaths,” Davis said. “I know that these people would still be here had they gotten the shot.”

He has since organized vaccination drives at his church, with hundreds of people immunized.

Or consider Blake Bargatze, a 24-year-old Georgia man who put off getting the shot. He caught the coronavirus first.

Last month Bargatze had a double-lung transplant after COVID-19 ravaged his body.

“He wanted to wait a few years to see, you know, if there’s any side effects or anything from it,” his stepfather said. “As soon as he got in the hospital, though, he said he wished he had gotten the vaccine.”

The stories like this are endless. These are real people who would say one thing, if they could: “Don’t wait. Get the vaccine.”

Unfortunately that simple message is swamped with misinformation right now, like people who deny a truth that every hospital can affirm: Nearly everyone being admitted now with COVID-19 hasn’t had the vaccine.

Since February, residents 12 and older who weren’t fully vaccinated made up 93.7% of COVID-19 cases, 94.5% of hospitalizations and 92.9% of deaths in the state, according to the state Department of Health.

I agree with those who say it’s wrong for the governor to declare that people will be fired if they don’t get vaccinated right now.

I can understand people taking a stand when they feel their liberties are threatened.

But I beg of you, don’t let your anger keep you from listening to the unvaccinated people whose literal dying words were to say they wish they had chosen to get the shot.

Forget the noise, the anger, the mandates, the indecision and misinformation.

Listen to their voices from the grave.

Unable to save their own lives, they could still save yours.

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Brian Mittge and his family were vaccinated as soon as they were eligible. He can’t wait for a vaccine to be approved for those under 12, so his youngest son can also be fully protected. Contact him at brianmittge@hotmail.com.