Julie Rasmussen and her father Richard Rasmussen, who died of COVID-19 in Las Vegas while waiting to receive a second dose of the vaccine against the coronavirus that causes the illness. (AP Photo/Julie Rasmussen)

The final insult: Some dying of COVID while awaiting vaccine

More than 247,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S. since vaccines first became available mid-December

After months of hoping to receive a COVID-19 immunization and then weeks of fighting the illness after one never came, Air Force veteran Diane Drewes was down to her last few breaths at a hospice centre in Ohio when the phone rang. It was a health care worker, calling to schedule her first appointment for a coronavirus shot.

Drewes’ daughter Laura Brown was stunned by the timing of the call in January but didn’t lash out over the phone or even explain that her 75-year-old mom was at the point of death. There just wasn’t any point, she said.

“But me and my sister were upset that it came too late,” Brown said. “It seemed like the final insult.”

More than 247,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S. since vaccines first became available 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 across the nation over the winter, it was a sad reality that some would contract COVID-19 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 Brown said her mother wanted one — desperately. Other families have similar, wrenching stories of loved ones being infected after months of staying safe and then dying before they could get a dose.

Charlotte Crawford, who has spent 40 years working in the microbiology laboratory at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, was fully immunized in January after receiving two doses of the Moderna vaccine because of her work. Yet she then endured the agony of watching her husband and two adult children contract COVID-19 and die before they could get shots.

Henry Royce Crawford, 65, had an appointment for a vaccine when he fell ill, 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, Crawford said.

The days since their deaths in late February and early March seem like a jumble to Crawford; she is still trying to sort out what happened as she pleads with anyone who will listen to get a vaccine as soon as possible.

“All I know is I did three funerals in three weeks,” said Crawford, of Forney, Texas.

While more than 96 million people in the U.S. have received at least one dose of vaccine, only 53 million are fully vaccinated, or roughly 16% of the nation’s population, according to the 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 either the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines leaves a period of weeks when a recipient remains vulnerable and subject to infection.

The wait for a second shot proved too long for Richard Rasmussen of Las Vegas, said 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,” she said.

Yet Rasmussen tested positive for the virus 10 days later and died Feb. 19 before receiving a second dose, Julie Rasmussen said. His final decline was stunning for its speed, she said.

“And now I am alone,” Rasmussen said in an email interview. “He was my best friend. We texted everyday, 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, was standing in the icy, snow-covered parking lot of a vaccine clinic amid the grief of losing both 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. 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,” Sullens said in an interview conducted by email.

On that cold February day, with some doses to spare because foul weather kept others from making appointments, a worker called Sullens in to the clinic to be immunized. Sullens said she was overcome by tears and a “surreal feeling of disbelief” as she entered.

“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.

vaccines

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Edna Whiteley in 2016. “Her whole life has been happy and about helping others,” says her nephew Bob Steed. Photo: Submitted
Nelson’s ‘little firecracker’ Edna Whiteley turns 100

Whiteley is known as a welcoming ambassador for new arrivals in the city

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson outlines the province’s three-year budget in Victoria, April 20, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C. deficit to grow by $19 billion for COVID-19 recovery spending

Pandemic-year deficit $5 billion lower than forecast

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
67 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Thirty people in the region are hospitalized with the virus, 11 of whom are intensive care

An animal carrier full of bullet holes and containing a dead animal was found near Castlegar. Photo: Colleen Schwartz
Castlegar woman finds dead animal inside carrier riddled with bullet holes

The remains were discovered near Syringa Creek Provincial Park

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison. Photo courtesy Conservative Party of Canada.
Kootenay-Columbia MP pans federal budget

Conservative Rob Morrison says budget doesn’t have a plan for long-term spending priorities

A lone traveler enters the Calgary Airport in Calgary, Alta., Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
VIDEO: Trudeau defends Canada’s travel restrictions as effective but open to doing more

Trudeau said quarantine hotels for international air travellers will continue until at least May 21

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

In this image from video, former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, center, is taken into custody as his attorney, Eric Nelson, left, looks on, after the verdicts were read at Chauvin’s trial for the 2020 death of George Floyd, Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Court TV via AP, Pool
George Floyd’s death was ‘wake-up call’ about systemic racism: Trudeau

Derek Chauvin was found guilty Tuesday on all three charges against him

Former University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Rowing Canada sanctions former head coach of B.C. varsity women’s team

Suspension of Barney Williams would be reversed if he complies with certain terms

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a CEFA (Core Education and Fine Arts) Early Learning daycare franchise, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. budget to expand $10-a-day child care, but misses the mark on ‘truly universal’ system

$111 million will be used to fund 3,750 new $10-a-day spaces though 75 additional ChildCareBC universal prototype sites over the next three years.

The IIO is investigating after a police dog bit a man during a traffic stop near Ladysmith on April 17, 2021. (Black Press Media stock photo)
Man arrested in incident at Canada-U.S. border near Roosville

A man who crossed the border illegally was apprehended by U.S. officials

Most Read