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Vaccine Skeptic Who Survived COVID Has Message For Those Still Unvaccinated

By Allen Martin & Molly McCrea

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found most unvaccinated adults don't believe the COVID-19 vaccines are effective and that a jab poses a greater risk to their health than the actual virus. But a 38-year-old father of a teenage girl has a message he would like to share with those who are hesitant about getting vaccinated.

KPIX 5 met up with Jose Jimenez and his daughter Sadie. He wanted to tell his story in hopes of helping others avoid his terrifying experience. The two were at a Sutter Health walk-in clinic in San Francisco, both eager to get their first COVID shots.

As they told their story to KPIX 5, nurse practitioner Cherysh Gunkle teared up.

"I feel like I'm going to cry, thinking about it, hearing these stories," murmured Gunkle.

"I am very lucky that I'm here," explained Jimenez, who almost died after becoming infected by COVID.

"It was very touch-and-go for him for a while," explained Dr. Thomas Shaughnessy a critical care doctor at Sutter's Mill-Peninsula Medical Center in Burlingame. He became part of Jimenez's health care team.

When the COVID-19 vaccines rolled out, Jimenez was skeptical. The bar manager told KPIX 5 that he did not know who or what to believe.

"I had Joe Rogan in one ear, and I have conspiracy theories in the other," said Jimenez. "Doctors and professionals on TV! You have the President of the United States telling you one thing and you have to take all of this in."

He decided not to get vaccinated. He thought if he got sick, he'd be just fine. He'd fight it off.

"You know take my vitamins, my supplements, lose a little weight," said Jimenez.

The Kaiser Family Foundation found 30% of American adults remain unvaccinated. While the reasons may be complex, one thing is clear.

"We've seen our ICUs fill up in Northern California," said Shaughnessy.

He told KPIX 5 that the vast majority of the sick and dying are unvaccinated. He understands that there is a lot of misinformation getting circulated especially on social media, but the most convincing evidence is what he sees firsthand in his hospital.

"From my standpoint, based on what I see every day, that's the information that carries the most weight with me," said Shaughnessy. "And that's what I want to share with you, is those that have a vaccine have much less chance of developing severe lung illness."

He added that the vaccinated who become infected and end up at Mills-Peninsula have a much better chance of a smooth economy.

"I've seen that play out time and time again, over the last several months," said Shaughnessy.

With the delta variant, doctors now see much younger unvaccinated patients in their 20s to 50s ending up on ventilators with severe lung injuries that can result in respiratory failure. Shaughnessy said the virus can result in an infection that inflames the lungs. The lungs then fill up with a dense fluid, making it impossible to deliver oxygen to the body or to remove waste products like carbon dioxide.

"With this much water filling the lungs, the patient is literally drowning," said Shaughnessy.

Jimenez felt fine until one morning he woke up with an odd headache. He discovered one of his co-workers had tested positive for COVID-19. He went to a clinic and discovered that he, too, had been infected. He ended up at the emergency room at Mills-Peninsula, rapidly deteriorating and developing respiratory failure.

Doctors rushed Jimenez to the ICU put him on a ventilator. The next thing he remembers is waking up in the hospital almost a month later. His thoughts quickly turned to his young daughter.

"Where is she and is she ok? It's the one thing I live for every day is for her," said Jimenez as he reached for Sadie's hand.

According to the CDC, people like Jimenez who had a prior COVID-19 infection still need to get vaccinated. There's growing evidence it provides a stronger level of protection. And you can get infected with the virus more than once.

"We can't change the past for Jose, but we potentially can change the future," said Shaughnessy.

Jimenez had no hesitation and got vaccinated first. He then held Sadie's hand as Gunkle vaccinated her. They told KPIX 5 the vaccinations were easy.

As they left the clinic, father and daughter headed out to do something most of us take for granted: they grabbed a bite to eat. Jimenez is thrilled he is here to dine with his daughter.

"To everyone out there, my one message is 'Take that leap of faith and get the vaccine,'" said Jimenez.

Not everyone is as fortunate. As of September 30, more than 700,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, including 6,386 Bay Area residents. Of those who had been infected, 1 in 3 will develop a condition known as "long COVID."

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