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The awful regrets of those who refused COVID-19 vaccinations

The nation has been focused on some Utahns’ reluctance to become immunized against the coronavirus. This is a life-threatening embarrassment

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Haley Dunn wheels nurse practitioner Aaron Hartle out of Utah Valley Hospital in Provo after being released.

Nurse practitioner Aaron Hartle is wheeled out of Utah Valley Hospital by Haley Dunn after being released in Provo on Sunday, July 11, 2021. Hartle was hospitalized with COVID-19 after turning down the vaccine and now wants to urge others to get the shots.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Among the saddest of all serious COVID-19 cases are the ones that have caused people who formerly opposed vaccinations to now experience deep regrets. Often, this is because they or a close family member has become seriously ill.

Utah, unfortunately, has more than its share of these. 

In a poignant story by Deseret News reporter Lisa Riley Roche, family nurse practitioner Aaron Hartle told how he remains on oxygen and tires easily despite being released from a hospital. Hartle, 45, once was a triathlete. He avoided the coronavirus vaccines because he worried too little was known about their effectiveness, and because he believed he was too healthy to get sick.

Perhaps worse than his own reluctance to get a shot, Hartle did not offer vaccinations at his own clinic and likely influenced other people to not receive one.

His experience is not unique. The New York Times recently featured Mindy Greene, of Provo, whose husband Russ, 42, is on a ventilator. That family also didn’t get a vaccine.

“I read all kinds of things about the vaccine and it scared me,” she wrote on Facebook. “So I made the decision and prayed about it and got the impression that we would be OK. … If I had the information I have today, we would have gotten vaccinated.”

The Bloomberg news organization also featured Utah, describing a steady line of cars at a COVID-19 testing site in American Fork, while a vaccination site nearby had been closed for lack of demand. 

“The delta variant has torn through Utah,” the Bloomberg report said, “fueled by low inoculation rates among younger people, the exuberant return of summer gatherings and loose restrictions imposed by public and private authorities.”

The report went on to note that Utah’s median age, 31.2, is the youngest of any state, and that only about 45% of the state’s residents have been fully vaccinated. 

The current surge sweeping through Utah is an embarrassment. Nearly 48% of Utahns hold a college degree or certificate, according to the Utah System of Higher Education. The state likes to pride itself on its emphasis on education. And yet so many people are being led down false paths by misinformation, buying into unwarranted cynicism about science.

Incredibly, some patients refuse to believe they have COVID-19 even after being hospitalized. “We have people in the ICU with COVID who are denying they have COVID,” Dr. Matthew Sperry, a pulmonary critical care physician, said in the New York Times article. “It doesn’t matter what we say.”

The numbers tell a grim story. New daily case counts passed 1,000 again late last week. On Monday, the announced weekend total was 2,244. More importantly, 15 people died.

A county-by-county map published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows only 36.6% of Utah County residents have been vaccinated as of Aug. 1. The case rate there was 218.16 for every 100,000 people.

Hospitals are filling. Many of those who survive face years of lingering, debilitating side effects.

Unfortunately, state lawmakers pushed for an early end to the state mask mandate last spring, based on virtually no data at all, then outlawed mask mandates in public schools this fall. 

This is a surge that was entirely preventable. Vaccines are free, plentiful and scientifically proven to be effective. The refusal by so many Utahns to get them is, indeed, a cause of great regret. Please, get the vaccine, for yourself and for your neighbor.