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In a recent video Travis Campbell posted to Facebook, he's breathing heavily with the help of an oxygen mask. You can see the machine showing his vital signs visible in the background.
“Hey, everybody,” the 43-year-old says with a wave, pausing between sentences with short, laborious breaths. “Made it through the night. It was a long one.”
Campbell, his wife, and two of his children came down with COVID-19 last month, his wife told NBC News earlier this week. While he told VICE News that the rest of his family is “improving with minimal setbacks, thankfully,” the Bristol, Virginia, man wasn’t so lucky. He was admitted to the hospital on July 25, the same day he posted on Facebook that he had “never been this sick in my life!!”
On Monday, he was moved to the intensive care unit.
Since he was admitted to the hospital, Campbell has been posting videos to Facebook nearly every day documenting his illness—and begging people to get the vaccine. Campbell was unvaccinated. The people “pushing opinions and agendas are nowhere to be seen while you lay here gasping for your last breath like a fish out of water,” he told VICE News in a Facebook message Thursday.
Campbell directs his videos at unvaccinated people, warning them what might happen if they contract the illness without being inoculated. “This Delta strain is something else,” he said in a video earlier this week. “I want to ask you: If you thought that you had to sit down and plan your goodbyes and funeral or go get the COVID vaccine, what would you do?”
“It’s a sobering thought of which I have done,” he added. “I have planned.”
Campbell said he had felt getting the vaccine wasn’t necessary because in the winter of 2020, before coronavirus was widespread, a “very strong virus” went around his family. “It resembled COVID, and the common thought was we already had it and won’t catch it again,” Campbell told VICE News. “Then it started dying out, so we thought it was going away, so [there was] no pressure to vaccinate.”
“During all the political agendas and conspiracies, you become numb and don’t watch news,” he added. “These are the reasons I felt that aided me in making poor decisions not to protect my family and I with a vaccine.”
While over half of Virginians are fully vaccinated, the southwest part of the state has a much lower vaccination rate than Richmond or the D.C. suburbs in the north. Roughly 43 percent of Bristol residents have received one vaccine dose, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.
The emergence of the highly transmissible Delta variant of the virus has highlighted the disparities in vaccination rates across the country; the national average vaccination rate is 50 percent, but all of the 50 worst-hit counties in the U.S. right now are well below that benchmark, according to the New York Times and the Georgia Department of Public Health.
While vaccination does not protect entirely against catching or transmitting the virus, it does dramatically decrease the incidence of serious illness such as the one Campbell is fighting now. As of July 26, fewer than 6,400 of the 163 million people who’d been fully vaccinated had been hospitalized and tested positive for COVID-19, according to the CDC.
Campbell started imploring his Facebook friends to get the vaccine the day he went into the hospital, and in just over a week and a half he’s already made an impact. Campbell said “hundreds of people” have messaged him to tell him they’re getting vaccinated; one post has a screenshot of a message a pharmacist sent to Campbell’s wife, in which the pharmacist says they’ve "had a bunch of people come in for the COVID vaccine because they know Travis or your family or saw his story on the news."
Campbell told VICE News he wants anyone learning about his story to know that “I love them and hope this will save lives,” and asked readers to “strongly consider becoming an organ donor.” Experts say that the need for transplants of organs such as lungs and livers could rise in the coming years as the long-term effects of COVID—both from the disease itself and on other issues such as substance abuse—come into full view, STAT reported last month.
As for his own situation, Campbell said Thursday morning that he was tired and his oxygen was thin. He’s currently on a ventilator and chest tube, and doctors say one of his lungs has partially collapsed, but they’re “hopeful,” he told VICE.
“I made it thru another long night,” he posted in a Facebook status Thursday morning. “Thank you, lord!”