A Springfield family is pleading for vaccine skeptics to get the jab after their beloved matriarch, who was vaccinated but immunocompromised, died of COVID-19 last month.
“We did everything we were supposed to,” Marc Ayers said. “We listened to the experts, socially distanced ourselves, wore masks, got vaccinated, and we are left dealing with the loss of our mother because others refused to do the same.”
Marc Ayers’ mother, 66-year-old Candace Ayers, died at HSHS St. John’s Hospital in Springfield after a month-long fight with COVID-19. The grandmother, who loved spending time with her daughter’s triplets, is believed to have caught the disease while visiting a family friend in Mississippi.
She is one of more than nearly 600 fully vaccinated people in Illinois to die of COVID this year, including 278 in September. About 53% of those, like Ayers, had an underlying health condition or were immunocompromised, while 87% are over 65, state data shows.
Marc Ayers said he was worried when his parents wanted to visit the wife of a friend who died of a heart issue that was exacerbated by COVID-19.
“We were very nervous about sending her because it was Mississippi, but my mother’s doctor cleared her to travel saying as long as she was vaccinated there isn’t a concern,” he said. “We should’ve got a second opinion.”
The concern for his mother wasn’t just because of her age but because of her rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease.
In mid-July, Mississippi was at the beginning of a surge of positive COVID-19 cases with the arrival of the delta variant — reaching a higher number of daily cases than it had for the entire pandemic. This was also happening as Mississippi’s Republican Gov. Tate Reeves called federal recommendations for people to wear masks indoors “foolish” and “harmful.”
“It has nothing — let me say that again — it has nothing to do with rational science. In Mississippi, we believe in freedom,” Reeves said at the time. COVID-19 restrictions in there are lax, if non-existent, in a state with among the lowest vaccination rates in the country.
As Candace Ayers made her way back to Illinois toward the end of July, Mississippi was on its way to having the third-highest infection rate in the country.
“My parents were only in Mississippi for four days, and on the car ride back, my mother was already having full-blown COVID symptoms,” Marc Ayer said.
When they got home, Marc Ayers and his sister didn’t think it could be COVID-19. After all, they were vaccinated.
“But as the days went on her symptoms got worse,” Marc Ayers said. “On July 28, our worst fears came true, and she tested positive and she wasn’t getting any better.”
She was taken to the nearest hospital in Springfield where she was given some antibiotics and sent home. In early August she was taken back to the emergency room where she was finally admitted.
Her condition would only worsen over the next three weeks. She was placed on an oxygen mask, had a blood transfusion and was eventually put on a ventilator.
“It all was just too much for her body to handle,” Marc Ayers said. “We made the decision to put her in comfort care and wanted to let her go as peacefully as possible.”
She died in early September.
Obituary calls out unvaccinated
The family was devastated and angry. They wanted to call out those who politicized the pandemic and were refusing to take it seriously.
So, Amanda Ayers — Marc Ayers’ sister and Candace Ayers’ daughter — penned an obituary that was published in The State Journal-Register.
“She was preceded in death by more than 4,531,799 others infected with COVID-19,” the obituary read. “She was vaccinated but was infected by others who chose not to be. The cost was her life.”
The goal was to send a message to not only the people they knew but to the entire country, Marc Ayers said.
“We wanted to send this message home that it is the unvaccinated and the unmasked in this country that are largely responsible for where we are at today, not just with our family but as a country,” Marc Ayers said.
The CDC has said the Delta variant is twice as contagious as previous variants of COVID-19 and unvaccinated people are at the greatest risk of transmission.
However, even fully vaccinated immunocompromised people are particularly vulnerable to breakthrough cases; limiting their exposure to COVID is why public health officials push wide-scale inoculations for the entire population. That herd immunity would also help protect others who make up the small percentage of people that vaccines don’t work for.
“We are seeing a segment of the population not only refusing to be vaccinated but making this a political issue, or at worst calling it a hoax that is only downplaying the significance of this disease,” Marc Ayers said. “Then when the FDA approved a vaccine, people are refusing to take it because of political reasons thinking this pandemic is a joke.”
Most importantly, Marc Ayers said, he wants immunocompromised people and their families to take extreme caution when they are thinking about venturing outside their bubbles.
“I wish someone had expressed that caution for us, and it is a mistake we have to live with for the rest of our lives with not having a mother,” he said.