SACRAMENTO, Calif. — When Dr. Vanessa Walker received her first vaccine shot in December 2020 she was full of hope the pandemic would take a turn for the better. Nine months later, that hope is overpowered by a deep sadness.
"I've been taking care of families on the frontlines and helping families navigate through this, I never thought, or I always hoped, I wouldn't be on the other end," Dr. Walker said. "It's terrible being on the other end."
Dr. Walker's father-in-law, Melborn Buddy Walker, 69, succumbed to the virus she's been fighting on the front lines of the pandemic for the past 18 months. She and her husband, Robert Walker, say his death was preventable.
"He paid the price because we're not having enough people get vaccinated," Dr. Walker said. "As a health care worker, every day putting my health on the line, my family's health on the line, I beg, please get vaccinated. It's the right thing to do."
Robert Walker said his father, who lived in Tennessee, had a heart attack last month and went to the hospital for emergency surgery. That's where he was exposed and caught the virus, he said. The couple said Walker only had interactions with health care workers when he came back and tested positive for the virus.
Shortly after getting discharged for heart surgery, he was readmitted to the hospital for COVID-19 complications. He died two weeks later, the Walkers said.
They said he was fully vaccinated but had underlying heart issues. His case was a breakthrough infection.
"Vaccinate yourself so you can protect the ones around you that either can't be, or if the vaccine is going to fail," Robert Walker said.
It's a reminder the couple said, that the vaccine doesn't just protect people on an individual basis, but helps protect others who are at greater risk.
"The more people that get vaccinated, the less the breakthroughs will happen," Dr. Walker said.
Not only that, they say their family's loss ripples down to hospital staffing in Sacramento as they take time off to grieve.
"A death in Tennessee is now going to take a health care worker off the front lines," Dr. Walker said. "That's one less person who's going to be there to help you if you need it. So we are all interconnected. Everything we do every decision we make affects other people."
The Walkers say they hope sharing their story can help convince people to get vaccinated if they haven't already, especially those in health care and school settings who interact with people who can't get vaccinated or are immunocompromised.