“One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late,” she wrote.
Cobia’s post and subsequent interviews have led to threats, she told The Washington Post. Her message comes at a time when Alabama has the lowest vaccination rates in the country, and underscores the challenges health officials have faced in boosting vaccine confidence in the state.
According to data from the Alabama Department of Public Health, only 33.9 percent of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated and 41.5 percent has received at least one dose.
Yet it is only after losing loved ones that families realize the importance of getting vaccinated, Cobia shared on Sunday.
“A few days later when I call time of death,” she wrote, “I hug their family members and I tell them the best way to honor their loved one is to go get vaccinated and encourage everyone they know to do the same.”
“They tell me they didn’t know,” Cobias added. “They thought it was a hoax. They thought it was political. They thought because they had a certain blood type or a certain skin color they wouldn’t get as sick. They thought it was ‘just the flu’. But they were wrong. And they wish they could go back. But they can’t. So they thank me and they go get the vaccine.”
The state’s dose distribution peaked in early April — with a record 45,181 shots administered on a single day. Since then, vaccinations have plummeted, with 6,118 people being inoculated on Thursday, according to Alabama’s vaccine dashboard.
This trend comes as cases in the state have risen — particularly among people in the 18-49 age bracket, who now make up 50 percent of all of Alabama’s cases.
The most worrisome part of the infection rise involves those who have forgone the vaccine, said Scott Harris, chief executive of the Alabama Department of Public Health.
“We know that around well over 95 percent — almost 100 percent — of our current hospitalized Alabamians are unvaccinated people,” he said.
Alabama is now facing its highest hospitalization rate since April. Some 646 patients are currently undergoing treatment — almost four times the number of hospitalized people there was just a month ago, state data shows.
While Alabama’s dashboard does not provide hospitalization demographics, hospitals for months have reported a rise in hospitalizations among younger patients, according to AL.com, a local outlet.
As of Friday, 22 children — including one infant — were hospitalized, the Alabama Hospital Association said. Last Thursday, there were nine.
For now, the uptick in both cases and hospitalizations has not led to a deadlier outcome. Since January, deaths have steadily declined to its lowest amount this month.
Though the seven-day-average for covid deaths is currently 4.9, health officials are worried this figure may rise “as an outcome of this current increase in cases,” Karen Landers, spokesperson of the Alabama Department of Public Health, said in a statement to The Washington Post.
Harris said difficulties in vaccine rollout paired with distrust have been major factors hindering vaccination rates.
“We were slow to get the vaccine out,” Harris said, adding that the state’s focus on its Black Belt region helped increase the vaccination rate in those Black-majority counties.
“We find that there’s a lot of mistrust with messages that come from state government, from public health, in particular, from the media,” he said. “It’s just a multilayered problem. There’s just a lot of different people who have a lot of different reasons for not getting the vaccine. And it’s just hard to address them in a big way.”
Yet these issues are not unique to Alabama. The most notable difference is between urban and rural areas.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation Covid-19 Vaccine Monitor, people living in urban communities are more likely to report positive attitudes toward the vaccines — with 76 percent of respondents saying they have either gotten at least one dose or will be getting it as soon as possible. In rural communities, that number drops to 57 percent.
For some, the decision to get vaccinated “comes down to a risk-benefit calculation,” which prompts them to take their chances with the virus, said former Centers for Disease Control director Tom Frieden.
While the country has passed the worst of the pandemic, Frieden said, the coronavirus will still be a part of daily life — unless more people become vaccinated.
“It’s going to take a lot of doctors and nurses and pharmacists, he said. “It’s going to take more stories like the doctor from Alabama.”
Cobia’s dire warning comes from personal experience. She and her husband — who is a neurologist at Grandview Medical Center — both contracted the virus a year ago, she told AL.com. She was 27 weeks pregnant with her second child, whom she delivered early “out of caution,” the outlet reported.
Even after experiencing mild symptoms, she decided to get vaccinated in December, once the shot was available for Alabama’s health-care workers.
“I did not hesitate to get it,” she said to AL.com. “There was a lot unknown at that time, because I was still breastfeeding, about whether that was safe or not. I talked to as many other physician colleagues as I could and spoke with my OB as far as data that she had available and decided to continue breastfeeding after vaccination.”
Yet speaking out to encourage others to do the same has taken its toll.
Cobia said that she initially “agreed to a few interviews to help spread the word because I think the message is so important,” but she and her mother have since received “a lot of harassing and threatening messages.”
“So I just need to take a step back from everything right now and let the post circulate and hope it does its job and changes some minds!”