Marin County reports 1st COVID death in a month; health officials urge more vaccinations

Marin County is reporting its first COVID-19 death in a month.

The patient was older than 65, active and otherwise healthy, but unvaccinated.

"We chose to tell that story because it's an example that this outcome is avoidable with vaccines," said Public Health Officer Matt Willis. "They are 95 percent effective at preventing illness and almost 100 percent at preventing death so we see this as a preventable death."

That was the message Willis took to a community forum in Marin City on Thursday afternoon.

A few dozen people, ranging from children to seniors, gathered in a park to quiz a panel of experts on why they should trust vaccines.

"The trials aren't even over," exclaimed one woman, questioning how quickly shots were produced, "and so we're all big experiments."

Fear, mistrust, and misconceptions often fuel vaccine hesitancy.

"Vaccines have been around for a very long time," responded family physician Dr. Curtis Robinson, "and so these are not new vaccines, the technology is not new."

Marin County has a vaccination rate exceeding 80% but it drops to 65% among African Americans, and that reluctance is true across the country.

That's why the dialogue came to Marin City, a predominantly Black community of about 3,000 people.

"Vaccination is your best ticket to freedom," Willis told a teenage boy who asked how he could get rid of his mask.

The organizer of the forum admits she overcame her own initial resistance to get vaccinated.

"We're not pushing vaccines on people, not shoving anything down their throats," said Felicia Gaston, a community leader.

"We want them to be informed so they can make decisions about themselves."

In Marin County, every COVID-19 patient since March has been an unvaccinated person.

The last death was April 17.

Due to patient privacy, officials cannot share the race, gender, location or exact age of the individual who died Tuesday.

"This was someone who was otherwise healthy, out in the community, living independently," said Willis.

The patient had no significant underlying conditions. 

"They developed shortness of breath, came to one of our hospitals, and unfortunately over just a few days succumbed to respiratory collapse," explained Willis.

It is unknown where the victim contracted COVID-19.  

The audience in Marin City was reminded the virus will keep circulating as long as it finds people to infect.

"It's a personal decision, you do not have to take the vaccine," said Benita McLarin, Marin County Director of Health and Human Services. "But whatever you decide, you have to live with that decision."

A teenager who listened to the two-hour discussion said it changed his mind.

"I think my suspicion was from not knowing enough information," said Bradley Page-Harris, 17.

The senior at Tamalpais High School was influenced by the possibility he could endanger elder relatives.  

"My friends at school and in Marin City, we were against the vaccine but after what we learned today, we're persuaded more toward getting it," said Page-Harris.

Willis compared vaccines to other choices people make for safety. 

"You put a seatbelt on because you know if you have an accident you'll need it," he said, "and you could play football without a helmet, it's possible, but would you?"