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Doctor reflects on COVID patients: 'I'm sorry, but it's too late'

It may seem tempting to blame ailing COVID patients who rejected vaccines, but I'm inclined to blame those who lied to them.

Throughout the COVID crisis, there have been countless reports on frustrated medical professionals, this new report from the Alabama Media Group is getting a fair amount of attention today in large part because of the candid comments from one local physician.

Dr. Brytney Cobia said Monday that all but one of her COVID patients in Alabama did not receive the vaccine. The vaccinated patient, she said, just needed a little oxygen and is expected to fully recover. Some of the others are dying. "I'm admitting young healthy people to the hospital with very serious COVID infections," wrote Cobia, a hospitalist at Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham, in an emotional Facebook post Sunday. "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."

Alabama has one of the nation's lowest vaccination rates, which is contributing to rising infection totals and climbing hospitalization rates in the state. Avoidable tragedies are becoming more common.

Cobia added, "A few days later when I call time of death, 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 cry. And they tell me they didn't know. 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. And I go back to my office, write their death note, and say a small prayer that this loss will save more lives."

Reflecting on the patients who believed misinformation, the Alabama doctor -- whose accounts have not been independently verified -- went on to say, "[A]ll you really see is their fear and their regret. And even though I may walk into the room thinking, 'Okay, this is your fault, you did this to yourself,' when I leave the room, I just see a person that's really suffering, and that is so regretful for the choice that they made."

I find myself thinking about this often in recent weeks. We see so many people making the wrong choice, buying into nonsense, and rejecting safe and readily available vaccines, followed by the heartbreaking reports that soon follow. And I suspect some will see these developments and say those who are suffering are undeserving of sympathy.

After all, the argument goes, these folks were given an opportunity to do the responsible thing, and they ignored it.

But I don't blame ailing COVID patients, I blame those who lied to them. Those struggling at the Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham aren't powerful figures at far-right news outlets. They didn't concoct ridiculous conspiracy theories. It wasn't their idea to politicize a pandemic.

It's easy to feel pity for those who get sick after putting their faith in the wrong people.

Update: Some readers have reached out to suggest I'm downplaying the importance of personal responsibility, so let me clarify: people certainly need to exercise good judgment, especially in the midst of a public health crisis. Those who rely on Facebook rumors about vaccines instead of asking their family doctor for guidance are obviously making a terrible mistake.

My larger point, however, is that I make a distinction between con artists and those who fall victim to them.