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

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

Tala MacDonald, a 17-year-old student at Mount Sentinel Secondary who is also a volunteer firefighter, has won the $100,000 Loran Scholarship. Photo: Submitted
West Kootenay student wins $100K scholarship

Tala MacDonald is one of 30 Canadians to receive the Loran Scholarship

Kristian Camero and Jessica Wood, seen here, co-own The Black Cauldron with Stephen Barton. The new Nelson restaurant opened earlier this month while indoor dining is restricted by the province. Photo: Tyler Harper
A restaurant opens in Nelson, and no one is allowed inside

The Black Cauldron opened while indoor dining is restricted in B.C.

First-year Selkirk College student Terra-Mae Box is one of many talented writers who will read their work at the Black Bear Review’s annual (virtual) launch on April 22. Photo: Submitted
Interior Health nurses administer Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
69 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

The total number of cases in the region is now at 9,840 since the pandemic began

Jake the service dog is trained to give calming hugs to his caretaker and handler, Rae-Lynee Dicks, who lives with post-traumatic stress disorder. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Jake and Rae-Lynne: The story of a Grand Forks woman and her service dog

Jake is on his way to completing his training, but it’s been difficult to socialize him in the pandemic

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
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

(Black Press file photo).
Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

Most Read