Florida vaccine advocate loses six unvaccinated family members to COVID


A Florida woman who went door-to-door promoting the COVID-19 vaccine lost six unvaccinated relatives to the virus in three weeks, with her uncle urging the rest of the family to get their shots as he struggled to breathe from his deathbed.

‘You can’t grieve the death of one because then the next day or two, you know, somebody else has passed away,’ said Lisa Wilson in an interview Wednesday from a memorial chapel where she was planning yet another service.

All told, she lost her grandmother, uncle and four cousins to the deadly virus that continues to sweep Florida after a record number of deaths in August.

‘So it’s been really, really hard to comprehend and try to figure this all out.’

The aggressive Delta variant made August the deadliest month in Florida since the pandemic began. There are more people on ICU beds in Palm Beach than there are official ICU beds, according to the county’s latest count.

There were 100,000 new cases and 353 deaths in Florida from September 3 to 9, according to the latest count from the Florida Department of Health. 

Lisa Wilson, left, says it's been 'really hard to comprehend' the sudden death of six unvaccinated family members from COVID-19 in the past month

Lisa Wilson, left, says it’s been ‘really hard to comprehend’ the sudden death of six unvaccinated family members from COVID-19 in the past month

Wilson helped spread the word about the vaccine in her job as an aide to Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa MckInlay, but she wasn’t always able to get through some of her own family members. Wilson is also the wife of Belle Glade Mayor Steve Wilson.

‘I work side by side with the communities and constantly push the message to get people vaccinated,’ Wilson said, ‘but I couldn’t convince my family members to get vaccinated.’

She got a call that her uncle Tyrone Moreland, 48, was very sick just last month, but there were no ICU beds available for him.

‘We were checking other hospitals and there was not a single bed available in Palm Beach County. They had to transport him to a hospital an hour and a half away,’ Wilson told WPTV.

Then her grandmother Lillie Mae Dukes Moreland, 89, tested positive for COVID and pneumonia, with doctors calling her prognosis grim, according to the Palm Beach Post. 

Wilson's uncle Tyrone Moreland, 48, was the first one to get sick  and succumb to the deadly virus last month. He couldn't get an ICU bed because Palm Beach County was all out

Wilson’s uncle Tyrone Moreland, 48, was the first one to get sick  and succumb to the deadly virus last month. He couldn’t get an ICU bed because Palm Beach County was all out

Two days after Tyrone's burial, his mother and Wilson's grandmother, Lillie Mae Dukes Moreland, 89, died after she was diagnosed with both COVID and pneumonia

Two days after Tyrone’s burial, his mother and Wilson’s grandmother, Lillie Mae Dukes Moreland, 89, died after she was diagnosed with both COVID and pneumonia

Her uncle Tyrone admitted to Wilson that she was right in a Facetime conversation before his passing.

‘Tell all of our family to get vaccinated. It’s horrible. It hurts,’ he cried as he gasped for air, according to Wilson.

Two days after he was buried, his mother Lillie Mae died – just 24 hours after she was hospitalized.

Family members who had recently visited her grandmother had all tested negative beforehand, but Wilson says she was known to invite neighbors onto her porch and into her house to chat.

‘We just don’t know,’ Wilson said.

‘In my grandmother’s case, I think some of her children advised her not to do it. They said she was too old, that it wasn’t safe, that she never left the house, anyway.’

 

Florida saw its deadliest month since the pandemic began in August due to the Delta variant, though there are hopes that the worst is in the past as cases slowly descend

Florida saw its deadliest month since the pandemic began in August due to the Delta variant, though there are hopes that the worst is in the past as cases slowly descend

Three more cousins died shortly after, including Shatara Dukes, 48, and Lisa Wiggins, 53. The last family member to die from the virus was Trentarian Moreland, 44, who succumbed to the virus on Sunday.

‘I was in their ears almost every day. ‘You’ve just got to do this” Wilson told the Post. ‘I’m beating myself up. Should I have pushed harder?’ 

Wilson says her family’s vaccine hesitancy was mostly driven by fear and misinformation.

‘I think a lot of them were afraid to take it,’ she said. 

Adding to the fears, her late grandmother’s 93-year-old brother was hospitalized with COVID shortly after he was vaccinated.

Deaths and infections across the US soared after a relative period of calm early in the summer

‘I think that secured it,’ she said. ‘That was a big, big part that was weighing on her.’ 

None of the COVID-19 vaccines used in the United States contain the live virus that causes the virus, which means they cannot give people COVID, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

More than 56 percent of the population of Palm Beach County is fully vaccinated, slightly ahead of the US average of 54 percent, according to CDC data, but the more aggressive Delta variant continues to spread and target those who are not vaccinated.

There are -3 percent ICU beds available in Palm Beach, according to county data, with 86 ICU patients occupying beds that are not official ICU beds. 

Wilson says the compounded tragedies have convinced the rest of her family to reconsider the vaccines. 

‘My family is going through a hard time, and I wouldn’t wish that on any family member anywhere,’ she said. ‘If my family was vaccinated, they would be here today.

‘I think I have now convinced ten members of my family to get a vaccine. If I can just save one person with my story … We are at a critical time. People are dying.’

Wilson’s boss, Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa MckInlay, says her aide has worked tirelessly to promote vaccine availability. 

‘She is a boots-on-the-ground person who has gone door-to-door encouraging people to get tested, wear masks and get vaccinated in a district that is a hotspot,’ the politician explained. 

‘I really hope that people are encouraged by her telling her story and encouraged in a way that they won’t want their family to go through this and be vaccinated.’ 



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