Two days after arriving at a Fredericksburg, Va., hospital with COVID-19 in September, Misty Mitchem was put on a ventilator. Another two days later, she died.
Misty’s husband, Kevin Mitchem, got the news as he arrived at a separate hospital with an unshakable cough. He also had COVID-19, and within a week or so he couldn’t breathe on his own, Kevin’s younger brother, Mike Mitchem, told The Washington Post.
Kevin died on Oct. 8, orphaning the four children he and Misty had raised together — and leaving behind a 22-year-old daughter from a previous relationship. But before he did, he expressed regret that he had not been immunized.
“His last words to my mom were, ‘Mom, I love you. I wish I would have got the shot,'” Mike Mitchem told The Post.
Neither Kevin, 48, nor Misty, 46, was vaccinated against the coronavirus, Mike Mitchem told The Post. He said the Stafford County couple had regularly taken in online misinformation about the virus and vaccines. “He liked to listen to different memes he would see — or different people saying … COVID is not real.”
“I remember him telling me … ‘I ain’t ever going to get it. It ain’t going to happen to me,'” Mike Mitchem added.
The Mitchems are among numerous COVID-19 patients who have expressed regret about their vaccine hesitation shortly before dying. Like Mike Mitchem, many surviving family members have blamed misinformation for their loved ones’ deaths.
In September, a California man said he wished he and his wife had been vaccinated, after their unborn child died as the mother lay hospitalized on a ventilator. That same month, an Illinois woman died soon after missing her scheduled wedding day because she was hospitalized with COVID. And around the same time, a Southern California couple died two weeks apart, leaving behind five children.
Social media platforms have struggled to control the flow of misinformation, which has ranged from the promotion of unproven therapies to questioning vaccine safety and coronavirus’s existence.
“It’s incredibly frustrating to be a medical provider right now with all the misinformation being spread online,” Rachael Rhodes, Mike Mitchem’s daughter-in-law and a nurse practitioner, told the Free Lance-Star. “It’s become very discouraging to hear reasons why vaccines are being declined by patients/people. It’s gotten to the point where it’s not even worth the discussion anymore because it’s completely unrelated to anything medical or scientific.”
Since the Mitchems’ deaths have made headlines, Mike Mitchem said, almost a dozen people have reached out to tell him they have been vaccinated because they heard Kevin and Misty’s story. Yet he’s also noticed that others online have called the story “fake news.”
“Why would the media make up a story this tragic?” Mike said. “I would give anything for it to not be true, just to have my brother back.”
He described Kevin, Misty and their children as an “average American family.” Kevin Mitchem’s main interest, his brother said, was his children. “If you go on to his Facebook page, you can see … 95 percent of his pictures are him and at least one of his kids,” Mike said.
Kevin worked as an equipment operator. In his spare time, he sold scrap metal and cut grass to make extra money. Mike, a former mechanic, said his brother often asked him to look at his truck when it was making strange noises.
Two weeks before Kevin was hospitalized, Mike was planning to help his brother with his truck. Kevin canceled the plan because he wasn’t feeling well.
“He had a cough he couldn’t get rid of,” Mike recalled. “Then we found out that cough was COVID.”
Not long after Kevin’s wife, Misty, became sick with COVID and died, Kevin was hospitalized. Before being placed on a ventilator, according to Mike, Kevin begged doctors to give him a vaccine. The doctors told him it was too late, Mike said.
Don Mitchem, Kevin’s father, told WVEC the last thing his son told him was: “Dad, I’m scared to death.”
Kevin and Misty’s children — a 17-year-old daughter, 14-year-old daughter and 11-year-old twins, a boy and girl — are living with Misty’s sister in South Carolina, Mike said.