Anti-vaxxers have called the death of a Virginia couple with five children from Covid-19 “fake news”, according to their devastated family.
Unvaccinated Covid sceptics Misty and Kevin Mitchem died just weeks apart after they both fell ill with the virus, and both regretted not getting the shots on their death beds, say relatives.
But that has not stopped people online claiming that their deaths are a hoax, says Mr Mitchem’s younger brother.
“Why would the media make up a story this tragic? I would give anything for it to not be true, just to have my brother back,” Mike Mitchem told The Washington Post.
Ms Mitchem, 46, and her 48-year-old husband were both sceptical about Covid-19 and took in a lot of online misinformation about the virus.
“He liked to listen to different memes he would see — or different people saying … Covid is not real,” added Mike Mitchem.
“I remember him telling me … ‘I ain’t ever going to get it. It ain’t going to happen to me.’”
Ms Mitchem was placed on a ventilator in hospital on 19 September and died just two days later, while her husband died on 8 October.
“His last words to my mom were, ‘Mom, I love you. I wish I would have got the shot,’ ” Mike Mitchem told the newspaper.
And he told People that his brother had begged medical staff to give him the vaccine when he was dying in the hospital.
“I knew how deadly Covid could be so I went to my brother and asked him to please get vaccinated,” he said.
“His response to me was to show different memes and stuff that he found on Facebook. He believed all that to be gospel truth and I could not change his mind. The heartbreaking part was while Kevin was in the hospital, he asked the medical staff to give him the shot. They had to tell him it was too late.”
Mike Mitchem’s daughter-in-law, Rachael Rhodes, is a nurse practitioner who unsuccessfully encouraged the couple to get vaccinated.
“It’s incredibly frustrating to be a medical provider right now with all the misinformation being spread online,” she told The Free Lance-Star.
“It’s become very discouraging to hear reasons why vaccines are being declined by patients/people. It’s gotten to the point where it’s not even worth the discussion anymore because it’s completely unrelated to anything medical or scientific.”
And she added: “My heart breaks for their children, who are going through this terrible situation. The loss of one parent is difficult enough, but to lose both parents within a short time span is devastating.”
The US has seen around 45.2m Covid-19 cases and more than 732,000 deaths during the pandemic.
Kevin and Misty’s children — a 17-year-old daughter, 14-year-old daughter and 11-year-old twins, a boy and girl — are living with Misty’s sister in South Carolina.
Mr Mitchem also left behind a 22-year-old daughter from a previous relationship.