(NAPSI)—Stephanie Bramlett is one of many people who live in the Southeast region of the U.S. who has experienced the effects of COVID-19 firsthand. An entrepreneur and mother of three, Stephanie was healthy, exercised regularly, never got the flu, and decided she didn’t need or want a COVID vaccine. “I didn’t want to be first,” Bramlett said. “It felt too new.”

Then, one day Stephanie woke up with a throbbing headache, 103-degree fever, and fatigue. She also lost her sense of smell and taste. Eleven days later, she couldn’t get out of bed, and her head hurt so badly that her husband took her to the hospital where they checked her for a brain bleed. It turned out that Stephanie’s son, who attended church camp, unknowingly, brought the virus home.

“I was terrified because I had never had head pain like this before,” said Stephanie. She was diagnosed with inflammation of her brain vessels and myocarditis, a condition that made her heart feel like she was constantly running on a treadmill. Her body swelled as her kidney functions failed. Her recovery ultimately took 72 days. “It was really, really scary and I don’t wish that on anybody,” she says of the experience.

Bramlett immediately asked for the vaccine, but was advised to wait until she was feeling better. However, the moment she was cleared, Bramlett went right to the drug store for her vaccine. She said, “The hardest part was that people were dying all around me who were healthy and young. I just felt so stupid. Here’s this vaccine available and I just assumed that it wouldn’t happen to me.”

COVID-19 remains a serious threat across the U.S. as we head into the pandemic’s second winter. The Delta variant now makes up for 99 percent of all cases in the U.S. and spreads more easily than the common cold. Delta also accounts for the dramatic increase in hospitalizations nationwide, and especially in locations where fewer people are vaccinated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who are not vaccinated are 29 times more likely to be hospitalized and 11 times more likely to die from COVID-19 complications, compared to those who have already received their vaccine. The largest demographic for those hospitalized since September 25 is between the ages of 18 and 49. Additionally, studies reveal that even those who have a mild case of COVID-19 who avoid hospitalization, are at risk of post-COVID symptoms. Post-COVID symptoms, often called long COVID, can last for weeks, months, or more, and affects one in three people who have had the virus.

Stephanie shares her experience with her friends and family, urging them to get vaccinated. To those still hesitant, she says: “I understand that people are scared. I respect whatever decision you make or how you feel about the COVID-19 vaccine. I urge people to talk to their doctors, and to do what they have to do to find the truth and stay healthy and safe.

COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective, widely available, and free to everyone in the U.S. ages five years and older.

If you have questions about the COVID-19 vaccines, talk to a doctor or pharmacist, and visit www.GetVaccineAnswers.org for the latest information.