Some are dying of COVID as they’re awaiting their coronavirus shots
Families tell of loved ones being infected with the virus after months of staying safe but dying before they could get vaccinated — or, agonizingly, before their second shot.
Charlotte Crawford has spent 40 years working in the microbiology laboratory at Parkland Hospital in Dallas.
By January, she’d gotten two doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine because of her job and was fully immunized.
But then she endured the agony of watching her husband and her two adult children all contract the virus and die before they could get shots.
More than 247,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the United States since vaccines first became available in mid-December. Officials had warned that dispensing enough vaccines to reach herd immunity would take months. And with the initial vaccine supply extremely limited and the virus running rampant over the winter, it was a sad reality that some would contract coronavirus and die before they could be inoculated.
With surveys showing a large percentage of the U.S. population leery of vaccines, it’s impossible to say exactly how many of the dead would have even wanted an immunization.
But Henry Royce Crawford, 65, did. He had an appointment for a vaccination when he fell ill and died, his widow said. Their children — Roycie Crawford, 33, and Natalia Crawford, 38 — also wanted the shot but had yet to find one when they got sick and died, Charlotte Crawford said.
The days since their deaths in late February and early March seem like a jumble to her. She’s still trying to sort out what happened as she pleads with anyone who will listen to get a vaccination as soon as they can.
“All I know is I did three funerals in three weeks,” said Crawford, who lives in Forney, Texas.
More than 96 million people in the United States have gotten at least one dose of vaccine. About 53 million of them are fully vaccinated or roughly 16% of the nation’s population, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With doses now more widely available, shots are proceeding at a quickened pace. More than a dozen states have opened vaccine eligibility to all adults amid an increase in virus cases.
Only the Johnson & Johnson shot is complete after one dose. So the wait time between the first and second shot of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines leaves a period of weeks during which people awaiting second shots remain vulnerable and subject to infection.
The wait for a second shot proved too long for Richard Rasmussen of Las Vegas, according to his daughter Julie Rasmussen.
Richard Rasmussen, 73, fervently believed in wearing face masks for protection and had his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in early January.
“He was very excited to get his vaccine,” his daughter said.
But Rasmussen tested positive for the virus 10 days later and died Feb. 19 before receiving a second dose, according to his daughter, who said his final decline was stunning in its speed.
“And now I am alone,” Julie Rasmussen said. “He was my best friend. We texted every day, all day. I have no siblings. No husband/boyfriend. He was single. I am all alone navigating the legal system and packing his house.”
The same day Rasmussen died, Deidre Love Sullens, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was standing in the snow-covered parking lot of a vaccine clinic amid the grief of losing her mother Catherine Douglas, 65, and stepfather Asa Bartlett Douglas, 58, to COVID-19 in a span of 16 days before they could get shots.
“They and I looked at the vaccine as the single life-changing factor that would allow us to see one another in person again,” Sullens said. “It was our goal. We all aimed to get the vaccine so we could gather again, so my mother could play with my daughter again, so we could maybe visit my grandma in the nursing home and not be restricted to window visits.”
On that cold February day, with some doses to spare because the harsh weather kept others from making appointments, a worker called Sullens into the clinic to be immunized. Sullens said she was overcome by tears and a “surreal feeling of disbelief” as she went in.
“My mind was thinking, ‘If only my parents could have held out an extra two months ... they’d be here getting the vaccine, too. They’d be alive. They’d be here with me,’ ” she said.