Why I’m Staying Far Away From My Unvaccinated Relatives

Edward Jenner, English physician who discovered the smallpox vaccine in 1796. Vaccination eradicated smallpox from the world.

Just three weeks ago, only 195 people in Tennessee were hospitalized with COVID-19. In Memphis, Methodist University Hospital had no COVID patients at all. Now numbers are soaring. Covid-19 hospitalizations across Tennessee almost tripled, to 579. 

More than 95 percent of these new wave of COVID patients are unvaccinated. Nearly 80 percent are tied to the Delta variant, which is highly, highly contagious. And COVID is hitting young people hard. The average age of patients has dropped from 61 to 51. 

It’s not just Tennessee. A July 21 headline in the Texas Tribune reads, “Texas has seen nearly 9,000 COVID-19 deaths since February. All but 43 were unvaccinated people.” COVID hospitalizations in Alabama more than doubled in the first two weeks of July. Alabama Dr. Britney Cobia said that all but one of her COVID patients are unvaccinated. Dr. Cobia wrote on Facebook

“I’m admitting young healthy people to the hospital with very serious COVID infections. 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. A few days later when I call time of death, I hug their family members and I tell them the best way to honor their loved one is to go get vaccinated and encourage everyone they know to do the same. They cry. And they tell me they didn’t know. They thought it was a hoax. They thought it was political. They thought because they had a certain blood type or a certain skin color they wouldn’t get as sick. They thought it was ‘just the flu’. But they were wrong. And they wish they could go back. But they can’t. So they thank me and they go get the vaccine. And I go back to my office, write their death note, and say a small prayer that this loss will save more lives.”

Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee, Florida—all of these states have low vaccination rates. But COVID is increasing in Minnesota, too. The Delta variant is highly contagious. People infected with the Delta variant can carry up to 1,000 times more virus in their nasal passages than those who had the original COVID. As in the other states, the increased infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are mostly—but not all—among unvaccinated people. 

“I don’t need to get vaccinated,” I’ve been told. “I’ve had COVID.” Except that Public Health England warns that“the risk of reinfection with Delta may be 46% greater than with the Alpha variant, with the highest risk seen six months after a first infection.” 

Of course, you might only have a slight infection the second time around. You might not even have symptoms. You might never know that you have COVID. You might not know that you are “shedding the virus” and spreading the disease.  

“Getting the vaccine is just a personal decision,” you say. “I get to decide about my own body and my own risks and that is nobody else’s business.”

Let me tell you about “nobody else’s business.” 

My 95-year-old mother lives in an apartment in a senior housing complex. Her friend just got COVID. Her fully-vaccinated friend. Now the whole housing complex is back to testing and restricted visiting and … fear. 

Did her friend get COVID from a family visit? From a grocery store? From someone who is unvaccinated but without symptoms? We don’t know. 

If you are unvaccinated, don’t go near my mother. Don’t go near any senior citizen. (Yes—that includes me.) Don’t go near anyone with a compromised immune system. Don’t go near anyone who is high risk. Even if we are vaccinated, you could kill us.

You could kill us, even if your case of COVID is so slight that you have no symptoms. 

Yes, vaccination protects us. But no vaccination is perfect. And I don’t want to be the one-in-ten-thousand breakthrough case who gets COVID after vaccination. 

Even more: I don’t want my mother or my husband or my great-nephew or anyone else whose immune system is less-than-robust to be one of those breakthrough cases who gets COVID after vaccination. 

So please—get vaccinated to protect not just yourself, but also the people around you. This is not just about you. It’s about all of us.  

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