As the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths increase across the country, particularly among those who aren't vaccinated, the way in which these instances are being covered has grown in intensity, too. Most recently, this can be seen in an NBC News and Associated Press article on the death of 34-year-old Stephen Harmon, who died from COVID after having publicly mocked the vaccine. Headlined "Man who made fun of vaccination efforts social media dies of Covid," the article generated a fervid response on Twitter, with some finding its framing "incredibly distasteful," and others wondering if this news might "bring a handful of folks from his inner circle to a different understanding of the virus and the vaccine."
Harmon's understanding of the vaccine was well-documented. Prior to his COVID diagnosis and eventual hospitalization, he openly mocked vaccination efforts, tweeting, "I got 99 problems but a vax ain’t one" just last month. On July 8, he also mocked President Joe Biden's door-to-door vaccine outreach plan: "Biden's door to door vaccine 'surveyors' really should be called JaCovid Witnesses" before adding #keepmovingdork for good measure.
After contracting the virus, Harmon posted pictures of himself from his hospital bed in Corona Regional Medical Center, tweeting: "If you don't have faith that God can heal me over your stupid ventilator then keep the Hell out of my ICU room, there's no room in here for fear or lack of faith!" He also shared that he had "pneumonia and critically low oxygen levels" and that he was going to be intubated, writing that he didn't know when he'd wake up and asked his followers to "please pray." He died shortly thereafter.
NBC's article recounts all of this — Harmon's tweets, his hospital stay, and how he died. It doesn't add a judgmental lens to what Harmon did or said, but merely presents the facts. While some may question the need to include Harmon's tweets and misinformation he spread about COVID prior to dying of it, the reality is this: The 34-year-old would likely have been over 95% protected from the very virus that killed him had he listened to infectious disease experts and medical professionals. So if the article is really distasteful, is that just because the truth is?
Given the misinformation and outright lies about both COVID-19 and vaccines currently proliferating around the U.S., it's reasonable to assume that many people who aren't vaccinated might not be so because of a misunderstanding or lack of knowledge about the vaccines, their safety, and their efficiency. Recently, ICU doctors and nurses have started sharing heartbreaking stories of patients who refused vaccines, believing COVID was a hoax, just before dying.
Harmon may very well have been one of those people, but that doesn't change the fact that he also did make fun of the vaccine and did mock people who decided to follow the science and get vaccinated. He indulged in those talking points and proudly regurgitated them to his over 600 Twitter followers. He knowingly and happily disregarded the lives and well-being of others by refusing to take COVID-19 seriously. It may be true that the article about his death didn't portray this in a flattering light, but the only way to have done that would have been by not telling his story at all.
While it would have been an option not to tell Harmon's story, it's possible that by sharing it, others will be deterred from befalling a similar fate. Sharing it might show that COVID-19 doesn't care about your vaccination jokes or conspiracy theories. This isn't morbid or mocking — it's honest. That people are openly pointing out that Harmon died from the very thing he treated with such cavalier indifference is not harsh — it's the truth, cruel though it might be.
Telling this part of Harmon's story doesn't change the person he was, and the other good he may have done in his lifetime. Telling this story, about the life of a person who died of COVID — a person who refused to get vaccinated, and refused to listen to science, and refused to even tolerate those that did — isn't going to change the outcome for Harmon, but it might change it for someone else. And that's worth a dose of the truth, difficult though it may be to hear.