Mom using memory of former Sumter football player to urge vaccinations; church holding vaccine clinic Saturday


One person from the Miami trip got it, and all five or six who rode in the car came back with it. They all survived, except her 30-year-old son.

He was known for his smile. For helping others. For never giving up on people.

"When no one else wanted to, he would step in," his mother said.

He worked in security and loved being around people.

He was called the "Gentle Giant," a combination of his personality and physical attributes. He was strong and healthy with no underlying conditions. The 2009 Sumter High School graduate excelled in athletics, being recruited to play football first at Feather River College in California, then at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina.

After returning from Miami and feeling sinus symptoms, he got tested for COVID-19 on July 12. He was on a ventilator by July 16. Carrison Oxendine died on July 25.

He carried his high school football team on the field. On July 31, less than two months from his 31st birthday, he was the one who was carried, one final time, by his former Gamecock coaches serving as his pallbearers.

He was worried about getting a vaccine. Like so many others still, he thought it "was made so fast."

"And he didn't know what was in it," Valerie Oxendine said. "But we do so many other things where we don't know what we're putting in our body."

This most recent and most deadly surge of COVID-19 is infecting, hospitalizing and killing younger and healthier people. They're also mostly unvaccinated.

The state reached a 50% vaccination rate among eligible residents on Sept. 16, though it remains lower than the national rate of about 63%.

In the beginning of September, Prisma Health saw its COVID-19 inpatient numbers surpass its January peak. Adult and children's ICU beds have filled up this summer across the state. The National Guard has had to send members to coastal hospitals to help set up and run surge clinics to handle overflowing volumes of COVID-19 patients.

Across 11 of Prisma Health's 18 hospitals, the state's largest health care system that serves the Upstate and Midlands, including Sumter's Tuomey Hospital, there were 454 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Thursday, 92% of whom were unvaccinated. Unvaccinated COVID-19 patients represented 94% of those in the ICU - 133 of 141 - and 96% of those on ventilators - 87 of 91.

Meanwhile, data continue to show vaccines remain highly effective against hospitalization and death even as the highly contagious delta variant sweeps the country.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found earlier this month that among more than 600,000 COVID-19 cases tracked in 13 states from April through mid-July, those who were unvaccinated were 4.5 times more likely than the fully vaccinated (14 days after the second or single-shot dose) to get infected, The Associated Press reported. They were 10 times more likely to be hospitalized and 11 times more likely to die.

Among Sumter County residents, there have been 12,660 confirmed cases and 216 deaths related to COVID-19, according to state public health data.

In those numbers are people.

"My baby's gone," Oxendine said. "So I just want to do this for other people's babies."

She said she doesn't want anyone to feel her pain. She is promoting a vaccine clinic scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 25, at Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, 155 Wall St., from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Anyone aged 18 and older can receive the Moderna vaccine.

She said she doesn't feel like she can help get people vaccinated fast enough.

"We're constantly hearing about people dying," she said. "He said at the very end his biggest mistake was going to Miami. He didn't know the biggest mistake was not getting vaccinated in case he came down with it."

Instead of celebrating her son's 31st birthday this week, Oxendine wants at least 31 people to get vaccinated "to honor his legacy."

To continue his legacy, quickly earned, of helping others.