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A 2nd wave of COVID through one family underscores why getting vaccinated is critical

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Recovering from one bout with COVID-19 does not necessarily mean it's over. Some people are catching the virus twice. Lesley McClurg from member station KQED has the story of a Bay Area family that just recovered from their second round, underscoring why vaccines are critical for the whole family.

(SOUNDBITE OF GATE CLINKING)

LESLEY MCCLURG, BYLINE: Vanessa Quintero pulls open a wooden gate to reveal an idyllic backyard in an East Bay suburb called San Pablo.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROOSTER CROWING)

VANESSA QUINTERO: Right now we're at my grandmother's house.

MCCLURG: Fruit trees burst with lemons and oranges. Colorful Mexican vases line the patio.

QUINTERO: To the right of her is my mom.

MCCLURG: Vanessa points to a simple house next door.

QUINTERO: And then to the left of my grandmother is me, my daughter and her dad.

MCCLURG: Four generations in three separate houses, all in a row - multigenerational settings like this are a lot more common in Latino families.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAWN CHAIR SCRAPING)

MCCLURG: Vanessa, her mom and her grandma pull up lawn chairs to share their COVID saga. I suggest Vanessa start us off.

QUINTERO: The first time, or the second?

MCCLURG: Let's do the second one backwards.

QUINTERO: OK, so the second time...

MCCLURG: Vanessa explains that her 8-year-old daughter recently came home from school with puffy eyes and low energy.

QUINTERO: You know, her nose was running more. She was coughing more. I get both of us tested, and then our results come back Monday that we're both positive.

MCCLURG: Vanessa stared at her phone in shock.

QUINTERO: This is wrong. I hung up, and I dialed again, and I put her number in, and I put my number in. I was like, it's positive. This is wrong. I hung up again, and I did it again.

MCCLURG: She was freaking out for two reasons. First, Vanessa knew the delta variant was dangerous and widespread.

QUINTERO: The second time it was scarier because I'm vaccinated. Her dad's vaccinated. We're protected in that sense, but she's not.

MCCLURG: Her little girl was too young to be vaccinated and has asthma. She lay in bed, wheezing. It was uncanny because the science suggests immunity against a natural infection lasts about a year. And here it was, a year later, and the little girl was sick with COVID again.

QUINTERO: And then I even told my mom, I'm not telling grandma. I don't want to freak her out. I'm not telling her. And she was like, yeah, don't tell her.

MCCLURG: The news would be traumatic. Vanessa's grandma is currently plagued by a lung disease she got from her first round of COVID. The virus traveled fast and furious through the family about this time last year.

QUINTERO: So the first time was Halloween day.

MCCLURG: A few days later, Vanessa, who is 31 and also has asthma, was rushed to the emergency room, coughing. The virus had already spread to...

QUINTERO: Two cousins, two aunts and an uncle and my grandmother, and then the three of us.

PETRA GONZALES: It happened so fast.

MCCLURG: That's Petra Gonzales, Vanessa's 51-year-old mother. She was the next person to get really sick.

GONZALES: I got the fever. I got a high fever, really, really bad.

MCCLURG: Petra became so weak, she also landed in the ER at the same time her 71-year-old mother, Jenoveva Calloway, was being rushed to the hospital. Jenoveva's oxygen levels were dropping to critically low levels.

JENOVEVA CALLOWAY: It was really painful not being able to help them, you know, because we've always helped each other, always been there for each other. And it was so horrible.

MCCLURG: Finally, after two weeks in the hospital, Jenoveva was discharged. She was still connected to an oxygen machine. When her daughter greeted her on the street, they hugged fiercely.

CALLOWAY: She, like, hugs me so tight.

GONZALES: I remember that.

CALLOWAY: I'll never forget that.

MCCLURG: That's why it was so terrifying when the virus hit again this year. Fortunately, their worst fears did not unfold. Grandma Jenoveva was out of town this time. The little girl recovered, and the other adults did not develop symptoms.

JULIE PARSONNET: Each exposure we have is going to lessen the severity of every subsequent exposure.

MCCLURG: That's Julie Parsonnet. She's an infectious disease expert at Stanford. But she says there's a lot of variables at play. First, immunity wanes. Second, the virus can mutate. And third, the vaccines are not foolproof.

PARSONNET: There are certain people - elderly people who are immunocompromised - who really can't amount a good immune response.

MCCLURG: Which is why she's urging parents to vaccinate their kids.

PARSONNET: Every child getting vaccinated helps protect all those other people in the family that they may live with or their neighbors or their friends or their friends' families.

MCCLURG: Which is really common where Grandma Jenoveva lives.

CALLOWAY: Our neighborhoods - it's three, four generations living in the same house.

MCCLURG: She looks forward to the day when her great-grandchildren and her whole community are finally vaccinated. For NPR News, I'm Lesley McClurg in San Pablo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.