It took 38-year-old Jose Jimenez more than nine months into the country’s vaccine rollout to decide he was comfortable getting the shot. It’s a decision he says was suddenly made easy after spending more than a month in a Bay Area ICU battling COVID-19.
“To everyone out there, my one message is: ‘Take that leap of faith and get the vaccine,’” says Jimenez, who finally got the vaccine alongside his 12-year-old daughter, Sadie, in September.
Jose’s journey to the jab
Jimenez says he initially opposed getting the vaccine citing how politicized it had become. “I didn’t trust what either side was saying,” he said. Jimenez also thought that getting the vaccine would give him COVID-19. He even heard people who were heavier set or overweight didn’t do well with the shot. He decided to forego vaccination altogether. Interestingly, says Jimenez, many of his family members did get vaccinated and encouraged him to do the same. Now, he says, if only he’d listened.
But luck, it seems, wasn’t on his side. Jimenez did catch COVID-19 this summer, the virus he’d once shrugged off. It was likely the strain of the highly contagious delta variant responsible for crushing communities across the U.S. since July. He describes how his health deteriorated quickly after experiencing what started as a bad headache and tired feeling. Very quickly he couldn’t breathe. He credits his mother for finding him in a significantly weakened state and acting fast by calling 9-1-1.
Tom Shaughnessy, M.D., a critical care specialist at Sutter’s Mills-Peninsula Medical Center in Burlingame, Calif., helped provide care for Jimenez during his month-long stay in the ICU.
“Pretty early on, we needed to insert a tracheostomy tube to help him breathe,” says Dr. Shaughnessy. “There were times I’d report to work and wonder if he’d still be there or if he’d succumbed to the virus.”
Dr. Shaughnessy says COVID-19 surge periods are incredibly hard on hospital care teams and likens vaccination to wearing a lifejacket on choppy waters.
“This latest surge is like passing through dangerous waters or Class 4 rapids. If you fall off of the boat, you might be able to swim your way to safety or you might not. You’ll have a much better chance of not drowning with a lifejacket on. COVID-19 vaccines are our lifejackets,” says Dr. Shaughnessy.
Dr. Shaughnessy also echoes the sentiments shared by many physicians and healthcare workers since COVID-19 vaccines became widely available.
“When there’s good COVID-19 vaccines out there and people take them, we know they are less likely to be hospitalized and get severe illness. It’s gut-wrenching to see people in our ICUs fighting for their lives. We want them to get well, be with their families and get back to their lives. We want them to get vaccinated,” says Shaughnessy.
Come October 13, Jimenez and Sadie will receive their second dose of the vaccine and join the more than 23 million Californians – and counting – who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.