Conservative radio host Phil Valentine spent months preaching vaccine skepticism to his followers in Nashville. It seems like many of them listened. Tennessee has experienced a dramatic spike in the Covid-19 cases as the Delta variant has swept the nation, with the case rate ballooning over 220 percent over the past two weeks, according to The New York Times.
Among the newly infected is Valentine.
Valentine’s station, 99.7 WTN, announced on Friday that the host contracted Covid and that he is in “serious condition” in the critical care unit. The experience has led Valentine to reconsider his stance on the vaccine. “If he had to do it over again, he would be more adamantly pro-vaccination, and that is what he will bring in his message when he gets back to that microphone which we hope is sooner rather than later,” his brother Mark recently told News4 Nashville.
Valentine’s hospitalization is another needless tragedy in a pandemic that should have been all but snuffed out months ago. Thankfully, he’s had plenty of support. Since the announcement last week, friends and fans have expressed their well wishes on Twitter, and his family has kept followers updated on Facebook. “Phil & his family would like for all of you to know that he loves ya’ll and appreciates your concern, thoughts & prayers more than you will ever know,” 99.7 posted July 22nd. “Please continue to pray for his recovery and PLEASE GO GET VACCINATED!”
If and when Valentine recovers, he would do well to work to undo some of the damage he has done. This would include apologizing to the people whom he told were “probably safer not getting [the vaccine],” as he wrote in a December blog post. Valentine also parodied the Beatles “Taxman” with “Vaxman,” singing: “Let me tell you how it will be / And I don’t care if you agree / ‘Cause I’m the Vaxman / Yeah, I’m the Vaxman / If you don’t like me coming round / Be thankful I don’t hold you down.”
The degree to which right-wing influencers like Valentine are responsible for the vaccine hesitancy fueling the Covid resurgence can’t be overstated. Local radio hosts, cable news talking heads, and Republicans in Congress have duped tens of millions of Americans into failing to protect themselves and others from the disease. These unvaccinated millions are now coming down with severe cases of Covid at an alarming rate. Like Valentine, many of them are expressing regret that they neglected to get the vaccine.
There are plenty of Americans who are unable to get vaccinated, such as children, but even more have willfully abstained amidst an onslaught of misinformation. Here are some recent reported examples of unvaccinated Americans and their families who were hospitalized with Covid and now regret forgoing the vaccine:
- Michael Freedy, a 38-year-old father of five from Las Vegas, died last Thursday morning from complications arising from Covid. He sent his finaceé Jessica DuPreeze a text message while he was in the hospital: “I should have gotten the damn vaccine.” DuPreeze told CNN on Monday that she and their eldest child got the vaccine the day Freedy was diagnosed, and that she thinks Freedy would still be alive if he’d been vaccinated. “It at least would have lessened the symptoms and he could have fought longer and had a better chance,” she said.
Jessica DuPreez and her fiancé Michael Freedy had decided to wait and watch before getting vaccinated. But then Freedy caught Covid-19 and died.
"We just wanted to wait a year … just to watch and see what people's reactions were to it. We didn't think a year would matter." pic.twitter.com/7sq44UL4FW
— New Day (@NewDay) August 2, 2021
- Williams Hughes was hospitalized in Arkansas after coming down with Covid. He spoke with CNN on July 22nd with a breathing tube attached to his nose. “It’s made me wish that I’d gotten the vaccine,” he said. “The vaccine might not have kept me from getting Covid, but it may have decreased greatly the pain and suffering I had to go through to get the point where I am now.” Hughes concluded his appearance with a plea. “Please, just go get the vaccine,” he said, holding back tears. “If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for your family. Because I almost left my wife and my daughter here to fend for themselves because I didn’t go get one.”
- Aimee Matzen, 44, was hospitalized in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, after testing positive for Covid. Louisiana has the highest seven-day average of new cases per capita in the nation. “The fact that I am here now, I am furious with myself,” Matzen, who had been struggling to breathe, told CNN. “Because I was not vaccinated.”
- Daryl Barker, a 31-year-old from Missouri who was hospitalized after contracting Covid in early July, cited his conservative values as the reason he was “strongly” against getting the vaccine. “That little boy out there is the reason to have a vaccine,” he said, citing his son, who camped outside the hospital with Barker’s wife. “Being 31 years old, I’m that little boy’s hero. I’m supposed to be the strongest person he knows,” he Barker said, tubes protruding from his nose. “Right now he could come in here at take me.”
This 31-year-old dad from the US state of Missouri was "strongly" against getting the COVID-19 vaccine — until he got infected himself. pic.twitter.com/YL2WzwRqBp
— DW News (@dwnews) July 31, 2021
- Texas man Joshua Garza, 43, became so sick from Covid that he required a double lung transplant to survive. He declined to get vaccinated when he had a chance earlier in the year. “If I knew what I know now I would have definitely went through with the vaccination,” he said following the transplant in May.
- Kathy Kurilla died in May after spending a month in the hospital following a Covid diagnosis. Her husband of 29 years, Joe, spoke with CNN last week. Kurilla was not vaccinated (she came down with Covid at a time when the vaccine was not widely available), and Joe urged anyone hesitated to inoculate themselves to learn from his experience. “I wish I could have you sit there with me in the hospital room with my wife having the tubes up her nose and seeing seven different medications being pumped into her,” he said. “I think you would change your mind in a heartbeat.”
Joe Kurilla lost his wife of 29 years to Covid-19. He urges skeptics to get vaccinated.
"I wish I could have you sit there with me in the hospital room with my wife having the tubes up her nose … you would change your mind in a heartbeat." pic.twitter.com/yqYEtnOCLN
— New Day (@NewDay) July 30, 2021
- The New York Times recently spoke to multiple families advocating for the vaccine after their unvaccinated loved ones were hospitalized with Covid. Utah woman Mindy Greene, whose 42-year-old husband Russ is currently hospitalized, says she prevented her family from getting vaccinated in part because of what she saw on social media. “I will always regret that I listened to the misinformation being put out there,” she said. “They’re creating fear.”
- Travis and Kellie Campbell of Virginia both contracted Covid in late July. They were both unvaccinated. Travis was hospitalized. “I would rather be covered and protected and if something does happen and I have to worry about repercussions of the vaccine versus being buried in seven days,” Travis said, according to ABC News. “I beg you, please see your doctor and make an evaluated decision and protect your family or prepare yourself for your next life.”
"I don't want to waste my time. I want to help as many people as I can to let them see the real truth that it's real, and it's only getting stronger and faster."
— ABC News (@ABC) August 5, 2021
The Covid case rate is rising dramatically among the unvaccinated, but the majority of those who have yet to get a shot still aren’t convinced. A recent Associated Press poll found that 35 percent of unvaccinated Americans say they will probably remain unvaccinated, while another 45 percent said they definitely will not get the shot. Despite evidence the vaccine offers strong protection against the Delta variant, 64 percent of unvaccinated Americans believe the vaccine does not offer protection against Covid variants.
A Kaiser Health analysis of state data published last Friday found that the vast majority of Covid cases (between 94.1 and 99.85 percent), hospitalizations (between 95.02 and 99.93 percent), and deaths (between 96.91 and 99.91 percent) are among the unvaccinated.