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For this hospice nurse, the COVID-19 shot came too late

Heidi de Marco, Kaiser Health News on

Published in News & Features

Espinoza fell ill a few days after his first dose of COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 5, but went to work thinking it was vaccine-related. “He had kind of a sore throat and felt a little bit under the weather, but nothing major,” said Nancy Espinoza. His symptoms progressed to a fever and chills and he tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 10.

Seven other Calstro Hospice staff members also got COVID-19 during the pandemic, said Jennifer Arrington, Calstro Hospice’s director of patient care services.

Espinoza was a victim of bad timing, according to Dr. Lucy Horton, infectious disease specialist and associate professor at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

The virus’s incubation period averages five to seven days, she explained. “If you test positive a few days after the vaccine, chances are you actually got exposed before you even got your first dose,” she said.

Horton said people aren’t fully vaccinated until at least 14 days after their second dose of a two-dose vaccine, or their first dose of a one-dose version. Early after the first dose, people don’t reap the benefit of the vaccine yet, she said.

“Even after you’re fully vaccinated, there still is a remaining risk,” said Horton, co-author of a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine about post-vaccination infection rates among health care workers in California. “Even if it’s so much lower, it’s still present.”

Espinoza knew he wanted to care for others and go into health care since he was in high school, and realized the Hispanic community needed Latino nurses in hospice care, his wife said. “He made it his purpose to help the Hispanic community understand hospice care and not be afraid of it,” she said.


On Jan. 15, Nancy Espinoza and the couple’s toddler, Ezekiel, spoke to Antonio over the phone for the last time. “I love you” were the last words she heard her husband say.

She was allowed to visit him right before he died on Jan. 25. He was intubated with an oxygen level of 25%.

Nancy Espinoza stood in the room alone with her husband for the last time. “I just wanted to be able to hold his hand and pray for him,” she said. “I wanted him to know that he wasn’t alone.”


(KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation. This story was produced by KHN, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.)

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