"This all could have been avoided."

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The family of a vaccinated Springfield, Illinois woman has used her obituary to call out people who have chosen not to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Candace Cay Ayers died on September 3 from complications of a breakthrough case of COVID-19 at the age of 66, her obituary says. "She was preceded in death by more than 4,531,799 others infected with COVID-19," it stated. "She was vaccinated but was infected by others who chose not to be. The cost was her life."

Ayers' son, Marc, told CNN that he thinks his mother contracted COVID-19 when she visited Mississippi, where vaccination rates are some of the lowest in the country.

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Credit: Getty Images

"This all could have been avoided," he said. "This could have been prevented by a few acts of kindness. [My parents] were in a state that had one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. Getting a vaccine and wearing a mask for others ... had this been done, she would be here today."

Candace had "severe" rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that mainly attacks the joints, and Marc said that his family was nervous for her to travel. "We were always the most concerned about her getting it because she was immunocompromised," he said. "We were wrestling with whether they should have traveled."

But because both of his parents were fully vaccinated, they decided to go ahead with the trip. "The Delta variant was just hitting the radar. Breakthrough cases were rare at that point," he said. "Our worst nightmare came true."

Richard Watkins, MD, an infectious disease physician and professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Health that it's indeed very sad she was fully vaccinated and got infected anyway. "There should be more consequences for people who choose not to get vaccinated," he says. "The pandemic is still raging because of the unvaccinated."

But Dr. Watkins does point out that overwhelmingly, vaccines do work, which is why it's so important to get them. He explains that it's "very rare" for a fully vaccinated person to become seriously ill or need to be hospitalized due to a breakthrough case of COVID-19. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 11,440 people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have been hospitalized with the virus and 2,675 have died as of this time. However, the CDC also includes the caveat that some of those people were hospitalized for reasons other than COVID-19, had no symptoms of the virus, and tested positive at the hospital.

To date, more than 180 million Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, per CDC data.

Infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Health it's "very uncommon" for those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to have a severe breakthrough infection. However, he points out, those with immunosuppressing conditions are at a higher risk. "Because those with rheumatoid arthritis are almost always on immunosuppressants, they qualify for a three-dose mRNA vaccine regimen," he says. "These types of patients were shown to be at high risk for severe breakthrough infections."

Experts continue to stress the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19. "We are in a pandemic of the unvaccinated and it has consequences for all of us, especially those at high risk for severe disease," Dr. Adalja says. "If everyone who was eligible had gotten vaccinated in April and May of this year, it is likely the pandemic would be over, or at least it would have prevented the emergence of the highly contagious Delta variant," Dr. Watkins says.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDCWHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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