UPDATE, SEPT. 22: When this story was written, it was believe that Emily Manfredonia’s father was the first fully vaccinated Humboldt County resident to die of COVID. However, the local Public Health Division later identified at least one, and possibly more, cases that preceded Larry’s passing.
In a few words, Emily Manfredonia described her dad, Larry, who she lost this week following a month-long battle with COVID pneumonia. Larry was a veteran who loved spending time with his family, Manfredonia said. He was a metal-detecting hobbyist, avid model airplane builder — in homage to his Air Force days — and passionate gardener.
In fact, he got out every single day to take care of his tomato plants — even with a terminal lung condition, Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, that Larry had been fighting since 1993 and that increasingly impacted him with age, Manfredonia told the Outpost.
As someone with a pre-existing condition, Larry, who was in his 70s, got vaccinated as soon as he was eligible in early 2021. His death marks Humboldt’s first COVID-related loss of a fully vaccinated person — of 65 deaths total — but his daughter is “not at all” disillusioned about the effectiveness of the vaccine.
“For him to catch this when he was fully vaccinated was discouraging,” Manfredonia said. “But we wanted to get the word out.” She hopes that by sharing the circumstances of her dad’s death, people will not incorrectly point to his passing as evidence against the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.
When Larry got sick, he didn’t think he was sick with COVID-19. But when he went to the hospital because of difficulty breathing, he tested positive. Larry stayed in the hospital for a week before going home against his doctor’s wishes, Manfredonia said. Her dad wasn’t comfortable in the hospital.
He had to return to the hospital not long after with continued difficulty breathing. Because of Larry’s condition, he was living with only 30 percent lung capacity, Manfredonia said.
In Larry’s last week, his family wasn’t able to be with him in the hospital for safety reasons, and over the phone it was difficult to understand Larry through his oxygen hookups, Manfredonia said.
“It was really hard,” she said. “His last days I would have wanted to give him a hug or tell him how much I love him.”
Larry died on Tuesday morning.
If it hadn’t been for his lung condition, Manfredonia thinks her dad would have survived.
Post-inoculation deaths are rare. Of California’s more than 22.2 million vaccinated individuals, 239 have died, according to the California Department of Public Health, which notes that “it is unknown if the primary cause of death in these cases was COVID-19 or if there were other contributory or alternate causes.” In California, there have been 64,931 total COVID-related deaths.
A total of 93,646 “breakthrough” cases — infections of the fully vaccinated — have been reported in California, and of those, at least 2,331 people have been hospitalized, CDPH says.
The delta variant is now the dominant strain in the US and is more contagious than other variants. Fully vaccinated people seem to be more susceptible to “minor to moderate infections” by the delta variant than other strains, the Washington Post reports, though each vaccine continues to “offer strong protection against severe disease and death from the delta variant.”
Getting the vaccine remains the best defense against COVID-19, public health maintains.
Today, just over half the county is fully vaccinated, and Manfredonia hopes more people in Humboldt will take that precaution. She and her daughter both got breakthrough cases of COVID themselves, Manfredonia said. Their symptoms were mild, “like a cold.”
“If [people] are fearful of getting a vaccination, they should still get it because it does help to not get so sick,” Manfredonia said. “Just because dad passed away — [his case] was because his lung was so weak anyway. He probably could have kept fighting and kept fighting, but he was too weak.”
If not the vaccine, Manfredonia asks Humboldt’s community members to “just to please wear their masks. Take care of themselves and their families,” she said.
“If people were more careful, my father might not have caught it.”
Booster shots became available in Humboldt to immunocompromised individuals last week. People interested in inquiring about eligibility should talk to their doctor, visit a pharmacy or call public health.