The pattern is shockingly similar. Activist anti-vaxxers flood social media with COVID-19 lies and misinformation until they come down with the virus. Then, they die.
Grieving families write one final post, bidding their loved ones goodbye, asking for prayers–and money–and in a rare few cases, urging others to get vaccinated.
With few exceptions, the death spiral is also shockingly familiar.
They come down with a head cold, sniffles or a slight fever they confidently dismiss, but just can’t seem to shake. After a day or two, they are overwhelmed by aches, pains, headaches, chills and intensifying fever.
Breathing becomes difficult. Covid pneumonia is setting in and they are on their way to the hospital. Despite a regimen of treatments, nothing works.
Finally, they are intubated, placed in an induced coma and left to ride it out–or die.
This is the COVID-19 pandemic on a close and personal level, the one doctors and nurses see every day that leaves them exhausted and frustrated.
Many of the anti-vaxx deaths in the latest outbreak of the far more contageous Delta variant have been high profile.
At least four right-wing, anti-vaxx radio broadcasters have died, along with about a dozen pastors, who urged their flocks to rely on the “blood of Jesus,” instead of medical science.
Herman Cain, a businessman, conservative Tea Party activist and Republican presidential candidate, was one of the most visible.
He regularly Tweeted his opposition to masks and regularly downplayed the virus, until he got it by attending a Donald Trump rally in Tulsa, Oka. He refused to wear a mask.
Cain was hospitalized in June and died a month later. Since then, he’s become a macbre symbol of the wrong-headed obtuseness of COVID deniers and anti-vaxxers.
In fact, last September, a group of wags on Reddit, the news aggregation and discussion website, created a sub-category called “The Herman Cain Freedom Award.” It’s not what you think.
People who are nominated are purveyors of anti-mask, anti-vaxx, or Covid-hoax views on social media. They are nominated for the award when they are admitted to a hospital. It’s bestowed when they die.
Since it’s founding, the sub-Reddit category has grown to more than 100,000 subscribers. Members scour social media in search of nominees and post their stories. There have been no shortage of candidates.
The posts are maudulin and tragi-comic with an underlayment of satire and ridicule. But they cut much deeper than that.
They highlight the lives and deaths of the tens of thousands of Americans who bought into the anti-science misinformation espoused nightly by Fox News, right-wing media, Republican politicians and evangelical pastors.
They are the believers, the acolytes, the misbegotten, who dose themselves with the animal dewormer, Ivermectin, Trump’s hydroxicloroquine and whatever other quack remedy surfaces on social media.
Yet, they adamantly refuse to take the one thing medical science has proven to be effectve–the vaccine–until it’s too late.
It’s sick and it’s twisted, but like a car wreck by the side of the road, it’s impossible to look away. You’re compelled to read the posts all the way to the end, usually in disbelief until the shocking reality hits home.
What’s makes it even more tragic is the fact that the thread features every-day people with wives and children. Some coach high school atlethics, others play Santa at Christmas.
But they all share one thing in common, a history of public statements and social posts that are anti-vaxx and anti-mask. Because most are non-public figures, only first names are left unredacted.
Take the case of “Karl,” who regularly featured anti-vax memes on his Facebook page. One read:
“Let’s make this clear. Just in case you’re in the dumbass crowd… fuck you and your vaccine. Any questions???
He called vaccine madates a form of “slavery.”
“I don’t need to justify my refusal. You need to prove your right to force me,” another meme said.
Yet another meme showed President Biden lying in a coffin, clutching a large hypodermic needle.
Then came this post from his wife, Lori:
“Hello prayer warriors, I need your help, my family and I is dealing with COVID. Karl is doing really badly. He is in the hospital with pneumonia/covid… please keep him in your prayers. My son-in-law is at the very end of his recovery and Miranda and the girls are mending.”
While Karl’s immediate family, all stricken by the virus, appeared to be weathering the illness, Karl was struggling.
“Here’s the latest update on my honey, Karl,” Lori posted.
He’s still not feeling well but baby steps on the road to recovery. Unfortunately, I can’t go see him and phone calls are difficult. He has his phone so he can read text messages or comments or messages on Facebook. Thank you for the continued prayers and well wishes.
But the virus proved to be getting the upper hand with Karl.
“Delta variant is hitting way to close to home,” Lori wrote.
“With a sad heart but with a strong faith in Almighty God, today I kneel down in prayer, asking for a ful recovery for those with Covid19 and in pain, and yes, Lord I’m asking You to protect and cover us with Your most precious blood, mercy and foregiveness,” she wrote.
But for Karl, thoughts and prayers would go unheard. On Aug. 20, he passed away.
“My heart is broken. I had a late update on Karl last night that was stable. 3 hours later it went extremely bad! Early this morning I lost the love of my life. I was with him when his heart had enough.”
Shockingly, anti-vaxxers aren’t just non-college-educated, work-a-day people. Even Lauren, a registered nurse in Florida mocked the vaccine on social media.
“I just heard the government is putting chips inside of people. I hope I get Doritos,” she posted at one point.
In another post, she scorned New York City’s vaccine pass.
“This is just the beginning. I don’t care who you are or what you believe. Everyone needs to understand this is really bad.”
Lauren supported Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose refusal to impose any kind of COVID safeguards has made Florida among the worst states in the nation for COVID cases and deaths, even surpassing New York.
It’s earned him the nickname Gov. Ron DeathSentence on social media and Lauren is one of the reasons why.
She strongly defended DeSantis’s response to President Biden, when he urged anti-vaxx governors to stand out of the way on school masking.
“If you’re coming for the rights of parents in Florida… I’m standing in your way,” she captioned one meme echoing the governor’s own words.
Ominously, she wrote in a follow up post:
“Second day of high school. Received an email from a principal. 7 positive COVID cases on campus already.”
She was equally intense about her distaste for Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
For all my liberal friends who voted for Biden/Harris… many of your were vocal about your hatred for Trump. So… are you proud of your team? Proud of the way things are going? Proud about Afghanistan? Where’s your girl, Kamala? In hiding? Are you happy about all the covid positive illegals being let into this country? I’m listening.
The post was laced with misinformation frequently touted on right-wing media, proving she avidly absorbed mistruths from television and social media.
Then, this post came: “I guess it was only a matter of time. Both myself and my son tested positive for Covid-19 today.”
Then, in a follow up: “This Covid is kicking my butt. I managed to do laundry today, clean clothes piled on my bed. Shoved them to one side and climbed into bed. Zzzzzzzzzzz. Nite, nite.”
True to her nursing profession, she maticulously documented her battle.
Covid day 4 update. Last night was rough. My fever went to 103.5. I went to urgent care this morning and they started me on doxycycline and a medrol dose pack. My cough is terrible and I have body aches. Thankfully, Aiden (her son) is doing much better than me. He has a stuffy nose and cough.“
But she was fighting a losing war. “Well… Covid has kicked my ass… officially,” she wrote in a follow up post.
“My fever broke today and I thought I was going to turn the corner. But the fun was only about to begin. I tried to do a few little chores but found myself getting short of breath. My pulse ox was 78. [90-98 percent is normal] Not good so I am in the ER. I’m on oxygen. My chest x-ray shows covid/pneumonia. I’m going to be admitted. I will update as I can.”
Lauren was game and continued to report on her bout with the virus.
“Still on IV antibiotics and steroids plus remdesivir. I am on high amounts of oxygen and even get winded with that… therefore, I don’t feel much like talking. I hope things start to improve. If my doctors have anything new to say I will be sure to write more later. Take care of yourselves… this Covid is no joke. I managed the first few days at home well… until I developed covid/pneumonia, which was a game changer. It literally took my breath away.”
The final post, written by a friend, came not long afterward.
“I’m in shock right now and so heartbroken. A friend of mine lost her life today to Covid. Lauren was one of a kind and always took time to check in on me and let me know she was praying for me. Lauren was a frontline worker in Miami. She gave her help all to others. She just tested positive for Covid one week ago and ended up in the hospital with Covid Pneumonia. I really thought she was going to pull through. My heart goes out to her teenage son and her sister.”
Lauren became one of the 1,071 deaths from COVID in Florida during one week in August, a 74 percent increase from the previous week. Two children were also among the dead. The state averaged 11 deaths per hour.
In all, more than 500,000 Floridians have been infected since June 19, when cases began climbing again due to the Delta variant, according to The Tampa Tribune.
The Sunshine State accounts for more than one out of every six infections and one out of every five hospitalizations in the nation, the worst outside of Louisiana.
Throughout the south COVID is running rampant and so is the misinformation and ardent belief among those infected that the virus is not real, or only the flu.
One nurse who is vaccinated and working around the clock in the South posted this telling account about the abuse she is taking from COVID patients in denial.
“Honestly, even when the patients eventually come around, their families do not. They remaind defiant and hateful denial and I’ve never experienced this type of mistrust in the ICU before from patients and families. When you combine this attitude with the astronomical death rate, it’ absolutely devastating our mental health. Anyway some or the most common conspiracies I’ve personally been told include:
You have [personally] or the Chinese government has infected the Covid testing swab so I refuse a Covid test for fear of becoming infected.” -Once I was working (pulled) into the ER and this happened to a child so we had to get a court order for a Covid test so the child could have his appendix surgically removed and thus not die from appendicitis. A Covid test is required for surgery at my hospital.
“You are vaccinated and thus I or my family is at risk from catching Covid from you.” Also, “I am not taking the vaccine because it will give me Covid” is pretty common.
“Covid is not real. What ever happened to the flu??” -If I never hear this one again it will be too soon. This is by far the most common and it is stated in a sarcastic and accusatory way by people and close family who are days/hours from death.
“I’ve already had Covid 1-3x and thus my husband cannot possibly be this sick from it or I personally cannot possibly be this sick from it because I/they have immunity forever.”
“You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about!” -Several patients have said this to me and it’s the last thing they ever said to anyone.
“You’re just lying to profit from the government. That’s why you won’t let us visit. I’m calling the police.” -They actually do. The police have stopped responding in person but the do call us and let us know.
“The doctor said it was PNEUMONIA not COVID. Lying bitch.” -It’s Covid pneumonia.”
Karen Gallardo, a Ventura respiratory therapist told The Los Angeles Times how the disease advances in seven stages among those admitted to critical care.
When patients are vaccinated, their COVID-19 infections most likely end after Stage 1, when dibilitating symptoms send them to the hospital. After a regimen of antivirals, steroids, anticoagulants or monoclonal antibodies and feeling lousy for a couple of days, “they are usally discharged and go home. “
The unvaccinated find it harder and harder for to breathe. Many patients say they feel like they are drowning. “Little things, like relieving yourself or sitting up in bed, become too difficult for you to do on your own. Your oxygen saturation rapidly declines when you move about. We transfer you to the intensive care unit.”
Patients are exhausted from trying to breath. They are put on an oxygen mask full time. It forces air into the lungs.
In the fourth stage, oxygen content in a patient’s blood is critically low. “We prepare to intubate you. If you’re able to and if there’s time, we will suggest that you call your loved ones. This might be the last time they’ll hear your voice.”
Past that point, a patient’s body deteriorates rapidly. Air escapes into the chest cavity and must be ventilated. Kidneys begin to fail requiring dialisis. Fluid retention causes the body to swell. Blood clots are possible. “Soon, your family will need to make a difficult decision,” she says.
“I’ve been at this for 17 months now. It doesn’t get easier. My pandemic stories rarely end well.”
According some reports, patients in the final stages may be fully aware of their circumstances and able to communicate with their loved ones gathered around them. But as soon as itubation stops, they die.
Sadly, often, only the relatives are left to warn others about the dangers of avoiding vaccination. In one post, Michele, the sister of Mark, took it upon herself to spread the warning.
“So, Hi there, this is Michele, Mark’s sister. Why am I using his account? Because Mark is dead. He died because he had the same view about vaccines and Covid as a lot of what I am reading when I check his Facebook. He refused to get vaccinated because he refused to believe he was going to die from a ‘hoax.’ Obviously, he didn’t understand science or proability. I watched him gasp his final breath through a window in the icu room. Oh, and his pride [and] his refusal to get the vaccine because he knew better than the scientists and medical personnel?”
Mark’s intransigence had other consequences as well. He infected his father.
“That decision? infected my father who is right now, this minute in another icu bed struggling to breathe. This is not funny this is not made up, this is serious. Stop spreading misinformation. Seriously get vaccinated. Protect yourself, protect the people you love. These vaccines are safe. Covid is not.
Despite the deaths of thousands under similar circumstances, the drumbeat of COVID misinformation continues on Fox News, other right-wing media outlets and among some elected officials in Congress.
Sean Hannity said the virus was a fraud by the “deep state.” The late Rush Limbaugh suggested the virus was a plot hatched by the Chinese.
Fox Business anchor Trish Regan told viewers that the worry over coronavirus “is yet another attempt to impeach the president.”
Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, Jeanine Pirro and other Fox News talking heads continue to spread misinformation and doubts about the vaccine.
When CNN news anchor Jim Acosta asked Biden administration chief medical advisor Anthony Fauci whether other diseases irradicated by vaccines would have been possible in today’s media climate, his answer was shocking.
“If we had had the pushback for vaccines the way we’re seeing on certain media I don’t think it would have been possible at all to not only eradicate smallpox, we probably would still have smallpox and we probably would still have polio in this country,” he said.
It’s imperative, that social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and others curb anti-vaxx news media outlets and the corporations that support them and reverse the torrent of anti-vaxx information.
Otherwise, thousands of others will earn Herman Cain Freedom Awards.