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He put off getting vaccinated. Now, he’s in the ICU pleading for others to avoid his mistake: ‘I messed up’

Virginia resident Travis Campbell, 43, put off getting the vaccine. He's now urging friends and family to get vaccinated from his hospital bed. (Video: Travis Campbell)
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Travis Campbell called his son this week with a big request. He asked the 14-year-old to commit to giving his sister away at her wedding someday if Campbell does not make it out of the intensive care unit.

“I messed up big time, you guys — I didn’t get the vaccine,” Campbell said in a Wednesday video posted to his Facebook page. He filmed it from a Virginia hospital bed, where he has spent nearly two weeks battling covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The 43-year-old Bristol, Va., retail worker and former police officer told The Washington Post on Thursday that he planned to get vaccinated against the coronavirus by the end of the summer — right after he fully recovered from a recent knee surgery and got through a home move.

After surviving a mild covid-19 case last year, Campbell said he thought he had the antibodies to ward off future infection. Now, he worries the decision to delay the shot will cost him his life, as he fights pneumonia and a partially collapsed lung.

Campbell, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, gasped for breath during a 20-minute interview with The Post, despite wearing an oxygen tube. The father of seven blames himself for spreading the virus to his family; his wife and children are recovering from less-serious cases at their home 20 miles away.

“It was my fault,” he told The Post. “I could have done research. I could have gotten the vaccine. I could have gotten my kids vaccinated, but I was negligent. I was so tied up with moving houses [that] I didn’t make it an urgency. Now, we don’t have a choice to go back.”

His hopes of getting out of the hospital alive plummet with each passing day. He has called his best friends to say goodbye and told his family he wishes to be cremated, Campbell told The Post.

As he fights to recover, Campbell has documented his time at the hospital in videos and diary entries on his Facebook page. He said he’s sharing his story publicly with the hope of changing the mind of at least one vaccine denier or someone who — like him — hasn’t prioritized getting inoculated.

“I’m not trying to talk down to you,” he said in a video last week. “I’m trying to talk to you so you understand that I don’t want to go to your funeral and I don’t want you to come to mine. The new delta strain . . . will get you down so fast, you are not going to get back up.”

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Campbell and his family members are among the tens of millions of Americans who have not yet received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose, which are available free to anyone over the age of 12. Like Campbell, though, many people remain reluctant or have put off getting them.

Last month, a Las Vegas man who delayed getting vaccinated until he learned more about its side effects, texted his fiancee that he regretted his decision before succumbing to covid-19. Other unvaccinated patients have begged their doctors to give them vaccine doses before being intubated, an Alabama doctor told The Post last month. By then, she said, it was too late.

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Campbell’s symptoms began on July 22. Two days later, he was so dehydrated that he asked his wife to take him to the hospital, where he was given fluids and told to return if his symptoms worsened.

The headaches, dizziness, aches and chills persisted. He was back the next day and spent 24 hours in the emergency room before a bed became available in the crowded covid-19 ICU. He was given oxygen almost immediately. An alarm system beeps every time his levels dip below 80 percent. Oxygen levels normally hover between 95 and 100 percent, and anything below 90 is considered dangerously low.

Campbell’s alarm is beeping more frequently, and he was recently rushed to the pulmonary ICU overnight. “He goes through about two tanks of oxygen in 30 minutes by just doing a little bit of physical activity,” his wife, Kellie James Campbell, told The Post. “They had to almost run with the bed through the hospital so he wouldn’t run out of air.”

Campbell’s morale was so low, his wife said, that hospital staff allowed her to visit this week. It wasn’t until she saw his medical state that she realized the new delta variant’s strength, said James Campbell, 44.

When she learned that two recent patients who were about her husband’s age didn’t make it this week, a wave of guilt and regret over delaying the vaccine hit her, she said. Two doors down from her husband’s hospital room, a 22-year-old family acquaintance has been put on a ventilator.

“We had no reason not to get it,” she said. “We just didn’t get it. We don’t get sick a lot. We are not around a lot of people. We just didn’t have time to go do it.”

Their family doesn’t watch the news much, she added, and they weren’t tracking the resurgence of coronavirus cases across the country.

“It wasn’t that we didn’t want to get vaccinated or were scared of it,” James Campbell said. “I had no idea covid had gotten bad [again] until Travis got sick.”

Campbell said the family frequently wore masks and kept gatherings small and outdoors. But a couple of months ago, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed mask guidance for vaccinated people and more people in their city ditched their face coverings, the family eventually stopped wearing them, too.

“We did a family reunion outside about two months ago,” James Campbell said. “I remember thinking how wonderful it was for the kids to play with their cousins without masks. In our minds, it was over. Covid was gone. We let out guard down.”

In a video posted to Facebook on July 27, Campbell urged his social media friends to get the vaccine — something he said he will do if he gets out of the hospital. He repeated that plea Thursday night.

“I want people to understand that they do have a choice but they need to make that choice,” Campbell said. “It’s not worth the gamble.”

James Campbell said she and their 14-year-old son are scheduled to get their first shot at a pharmacy on Friday.

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