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Betty Antoine (right), Branndon Haynes’ mother, is hugged by a family member during a Celebration of Life service for her son at Erwinville Community Center in Port Allen, July 18. Antoine requested Ochsner nurses set up a vaccination station during his service to encourage those attending to get vaccinated. Haynes passed away due to COVID-19 complications.

While Louisiana's record-breaking COVID-19 numbers have become the crying stock of the country, there is a glimmer of hope. The number of people getting vaccinations in the Bayou State is rising — soaring in fact. The benefits won’t show for a while, but better days may be coming.

There is one person who is responsible for at least a couple dozen of those life-saving decisions. My friend, Betty Antoine, has been telling everyone she can about the need to be vaccinated.

She has been on local and national news shows and in newspapers, making emotion-charged pleas about the need for the COVID-19 needle. Her message has been that the two-second transaction — from syringe to arm — can mean life versus the possibility of long-term illness or death.

Betty’s public plea, though, comes in the wake of a devastating personal loss. Her eldest son, Brandon Haynes, 46, refused to get the vaccine. He even advised her and his friends not to take it. Her younger son got the shot. So did she.

Brandon, though, stood his ground. He died a couple of months ago from COVID-19, compounded by a number of health issues.

“When they told him at the hospital that he had COVID, I knew my child was going to die,” she said.

I met Betty years ago when I joined a football tailgating group at Southern University in Baton Rouge. I was lucky to find a collection of folk who talked about everything from sports and politics, to the latest news, to whatever generates a conversation. Betty, I found, was one of the most gregarious of the bunch, ready and willing to laugh and talk. And talk.

It has been no surprise that she has talked to whomever will listen that they need to accept the vaccine. At her son’s memorial service, she had another member of our tailgate group arrange COVID-19 vaccinations to whomever would consent. Several of her son’s friends got shots that day.

“Brandon’s friends had believed in him when he told them that they should not get the shot. ... They realized that he was wrong,” she said. “I am so happy they got the shot.”

Betty continues to push the idea of the shot and wearing a mask to protect others from getting COVID-19. She is, however, diplomatic about it. There is no brow-beating. She respects those that challenge such efforts. “I don’t argue with adults,” she says, instead relying on the news about the record numbers of the COVID-19 sick in Louisiana to make her point without making a comment.

“I tell them don’t depend on what Facebook has to tell them,” she said. “Listen to the doctors.”

Recently, Betty discovered that a friend and her two children were headed to get the shot. Another friend and her son were going, too. In all, she says, more than a dozen people are getting the shot because of public testimony.

There is hope that her interviews on CNN, Louisiana Public Broadcasting and other media have nudged others to get vaccinated. In a Thursday report by the Louisiana Department of Health, more than 100,000 COVID-19 shots were given to Louisianans in the past week. At least 54,200 were given since Monday. That’s double the 26,870 for a similar period July 15-19.

She loves it. Her hope is that more people will be encouraged by those numbers to get in line. “There are those on the fence who are changing their minds as they see people dying. They are now getting the vaccine,” she said.

But even in the joy, her emotions can quickly slide into the depth of sadness about Brandon. Her words may move a few more to get the vaccine.

“He loved me so much. ... We had this thing where he called me almost every day. We would talk and he would say ‘Mom, I love you,’" she said, her voice choking. “Ed, I won’t get to hear that anymore and it hurts me every day.”

Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman, at epratt1972@yahoo.com.