Claire Pride, 28, was in ICU for five days with COVID pneumonia. (Courtesy Claire Pride)

Claire Pride isn’t a political person. So as COVID-19 policies and recommendations became more and more politicized the past few months, the 28-year-old Madison resident didn’t feel the need to get the vaccine.

She wasn’t necessarily opposed to getting the shot, but it wasn’t something she felt led to do. When the vaccine was first made available, she wanted older, more at-risk people to get vaccinated first. Later, she believed that younger, healthy people like her were safe from the worst effects.

“There wasn’t any one reason, but I just wasn’t sure about it,” Pride said. “I didn’t do a ton of research. I thought since I didn’t get the virus the first round, I work out three or four times a week, I don’t have any other health concerns, I’ll just see what happens and probably be fine.”

Her perspective changed dramatically as she lay in the Intensive Care Unit at Baptist hospital in Jackson for five days last week with COVID pneumonia.

“It’s insane how fast it happened,” Pride told Mississippi Today on Wednesday. “They say it feels like getting hit by a bus, but I swear it was worse than that. I couldn’t get up out of bed to walk three feet across the room. I couldn’t breathe at all. I told the nurses several times that I was about to die.

“I want everyone to see what it can do to a healthy 28-year-old,” Pride continued. “You need to know where I ended up because I chose not to get the vaccine.”

Pride is among a little less than 2 million Mississippians who have not yet received a COVID-19 vaccine, making the state second-to-last in percentage of residents who have not received the shot. 

That figure is made even more alarming as the worst-ever COVID-19 spike grips the state and overloads the hospital system. As of this week, Mississippi hospitals are stretched thinner than they have since the pandemic began in early 2020. This is due to the Delta variant of the coronavirus, which is much more infectious than previous strains.

A disconcerting trend that physicians across the state and nation have reported is that younger people like Pride are being affected now more than ever. One theory for this phenomenon: Younger people are often choosing not to get vaccinated.

Mississippi State Department of Health data shows that younger generations are getting vaccinated less than older generations. As of Aug. 4, just 21% of Mississippians ages 18-24 had been fully vaccinated; 24% ages 25-39; 38% aged 40-49;  53% ages 50-64; and 71% ages 65 and up had been fully vaccinated.

Pride’s harrowing journey began on July 25, when she felt fatigued and nauseous and lost her senses of taste and smell.

“I was like, ‘Crap, I guess I have COVID,’” Pride recalled of those first few hours. Still not overly concerned, she began taking the suggested over-the-counter medicines for COVID treatment and stayed home.

Five days later, feeling sicker than ever, she texted a nurse friend and asked how difficult it should be to breathe. The friend brought Pride a blood oxygen reader. Normal blood oxygen levels should fall between 90-100 millimeters of mercury. Pride’s level was 64. For reference, any level below 60 requires the need for supplemental oxygen.

“My friend said, ‘Do not do anything else. Go the emergency room immediately,’” Pride recalled. “I went to my local ER and stayed the night. The next day, I was transferred by ambulance to the Baptist ICU in Jackson.”

The grueling next five days in the Baptist ICU changed Pride’s perspective on COVID-19 and the vaccines. When she was moved out of the ICU to a regular room on Aug. 3, she posted an earnest plea to her Facebook friends to get vaccinated.

“I just didn’t realize people my age were being affected the way that they are,” Pride said of the Facebook post. “I wanted all my friends to see it.”

The Facebook post went viral, being shared widely across the state and region. In an Aug. 4 interview with Mississippi Today, Pride said that she’d guess between 50-100 people who heard her story reached out and said they made vaccine appointments for the first time.

Pride said she was feeling much better and hoped to go home to her dogs later in the week.

“I really live my life trying not to regret anything,” Pride said. “But I think if I had seen somebody in my position three weeks before it happened to me, I think I would’ve gone to get the vaccine. I can tell you this: When I’m eligible to get one after having the virus, I’ll have a vaccine appointment set up.”

READ MORE: Where and how to get a COVID-19 vaccine in Mississippi.

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Adam Ganucheau, as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief, oversees the newsroom and works with the editorial team to fulfill our mission of producing high-quality journalism in the public interest. Adam has covered politics and state government for Mississippi Today since February 2016. A native of Hazlehurst, Adam has worked as a staff reporter for, The Birmingham News and The Clarion-Ledger and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Adam earned his bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Mississippi.