As the Delta Variant Increases Cases of COVID-19 in the United States, Some of Those Cases Are Regretting Not Getting the Vaccine When They Could

In recent weeks, the Delta variant of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has been spreading everywhere around the world. The first cases of it in the United States appeared in May, right around the same time that it took over and became the driving variant in the large epidemic in India. By the middle of July, it was the dominant variant in the United States, a testament to how infectious it is and how rapidly it can spread from one continent to another.

Interestingly but expectedly, the Delta variant is infecting mostly the unvaccinated. While some vaccinated people are testing positive, almost no hospitalizations and no deaths from COVID-19 (of any variant) have been reported in the United States in the last six weeks. In Maryland, all the deaths from COVID-19 in June were in unvaccinated people, with other states reporting similar trends. The three authorized vaccines in the United States seem to be exceedingly effective at stopping infection and, should a vaccinated person get infected, preventing severe disease and death.

Unfortunately, plenty of people in the United States remain unvaccinated for a variety of reasons. Children under the age of twelve cannot get vaccinated because none of the vaccines have been authorized for use in those age groups. People who have medical conditions that prevent them from receiving the vaccine, and people who have had allergic reactions to the ingredients in the vaccines in the past; they also cannot get vaccinated. There are also those who have sincere religious beliefs about the vaccines, though most major religions are not opposed to vaccination in general and the COVID-19 vaccine in particular. (Read the vaccine recommendations from CDC here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/keythingstoknow.html)

As a result of the large concentrations of unvaccinated people, several states in the United States are showing increases in cases and hospitalizations while other places seem to be protected — or at least resistant — from further outbreaks. In those places, there are now stories being shared about people regretting their decision to not be vaccinated, and many of them seem to be regretting it because they have become seriously ill:

  • In Tennessee, a conservative talk radio host is hospitalized and in intensive care. His brother sent out a message to the talk radio host’s audience: “Phil Valentine’s brother, Mark Valentine, spoke at length on WWTN-FM in Nashville on Thursday about his brother’s condition, saying he is in a critical care unit on supplemental oxygen, but not on a ventilator. Phil Valentine has had an afternoon talk radio show on the station for years. “First of all, he’s regretful that he wasn’t a more vocal advocate of the vaccination,” Mark Valentine said of his brother. “For those listening, I know if he were able to tell you this, he would tell you, ‘Go get vaccinated. Quit worrying about the politics. Quit worrying about all the conspiracy theories.’” Mark Valentine took exception to the idea that Phil Valentine was anti-vaccination, labeling him “pro-information” and “pro-choice” on the vaccine but adding, “he got this one wrong.””
    Tennessee went from an average of 177 cases per day in the previous 7 days at the beginning of July to 918 cases per day in the previous 7 days on July 20.
  • In Arkansas, two people talked about their regrets over not being vaccinated, especially now that they have experienced the disease: “Lamonte Boyd, a 42-year-old father of three, said he didn’t listen to doctors or even his wife when she got vaccinated and told him he should too. “I thought the vaccine was a hoax,” Boyd told CBS News. Before he got sick, Boyd initially brushed it off and “thought it was a joke.” He is now urging others who were vaccine hesitant to get it. “I would tell those who don’t want to take the vaccines, you playing Russian roulette with your life,” he said. Boyd was diagnosed with COVID nearly two weeks ago. He developed pneumonia in both lungs and still struggles to breathe. “Right now as we talk. My wind is short. That’s why, you know, I’m really gasping for air now,” he said… A 62-year-old woman, who spoke to us but didn’t want to use her name, said she regrets not getting the vaccine. “It’s hard to breathe so I have oxygen — you can see it on me 24/7 — and then there’s occasions where I cough and I can’t stop,” she said. She told us that “it’s a life or death sentence, it’s not a joke.” Since January, 98% of COVID patients hospitalized in Arkansas were unvaccinated.”
    From July 7 to July 21, Arkansas has averaged about a thousand cases each day.
  • In Florida, a woman talked about how she and her family delayed vaccination, resulting in her family acquiring the disease and her father passing away from complications of COVID-19.
  • In Ohio, a woman expressed her regret over not being vaccinated after spending over a week in a coma: “In June, Amanda Spencer, 37, went on vacation with her family in Florida. The Union County woman said it was only days into their trip that she started to not feel well. “We had plans to go to Universal Studios with the children and I was too sick to go. I just didn’t have the energy. I stayed back at the hotel,” Spencer said. “That night my breathing got worse. I went to the bathroom and I actually couldn’t get out of the bathroom. I was so weak.” Spencer’s family took her to the emergency room where doctors diagnosed her with COVID-19. She was unvaccinated. Her condition only worsened and on June 11, she was placed in a medically induced coma. She woke up 11 days later on June 22. “I don’t remember anything until they woke me up and took the ventilator out,” she said. “That was the scariest thing that I’ve ever gone through. The thoughts of leaving my family behind knowing I was that close, it’s terrifying.” Doctors told Spencer she was lucky. Four days after she got off the ventilator, she was able to go home to Ohio. “I made a promise to myself then that I wanted to make sure that I told as many people as I can my story and hopefully prevent others from going through it,” she said. “It could happen to anybody.” Spencer told 10TV there were a few reasons why she chose not to get the COVID-19 vaccine. “For me, it was partly because we were busy and honestly, I was worried about the side effects,” she said. “After what I went through, I would’ve much rather been sick for a couple of days and have the mild symptoms that maybe the shot causes than to go through what I went through.” While Spencer is not able to get vaccinated for a while due to having COVID-19, she did encourage her husband and oldest daughter to get their shots. “I regret that I didn’t get vaccinated,” she said. “If that shot can save your life, definitely consider it.””

Other stories are out there of people regretting not getting the vaccine, or their friends and family regretting that their loved one did not get the vaccine. As cases of the Delta variant grow, and vaccination efforts stall, these stories are likely to continue to repeat themselves.

Author: René F. Najera, DrPH

I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, an online project by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. All opinions expressed on these blog posts are not necessarily those of the College or any of my employers. Check out my professional profile on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/renenajera Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen