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COVID surge swamping hospitals was preventable

“Younger, sicker, quicker.”

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That’s the phrase medical professionals are using to describe the new wave of COVID patients in local hospitals. As the delta variant of the coronavirus explodes in the unvaccinated population, those winding up in the hospital are no longer people well over 60 with underlying health conditions. They are in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Their symptoms are more severe, and they progress much faster from feeling ill to showing up at the emergency room unable to breathe.

The frustrating thing is that it didn’t have to be this way. If more people had listened when health officials urged them to get vaccinated, hospitals likely wouldn’t be overwhelmed. What’s happening now was completely preventable.

Yes, some of those people would have contracted COVID anyway. The vaccines are not 100% effective. No vaccine is, and no one ever claimed these vaccines were different. But vaccinated people are far less likely to need hospital care.

Officials at Asante, which operates three hospitals in Medford, Grants Pass and Ashland, report that more than 90% of those hospitalized with COVID are unvaccinated.

Jackson and Josephine counties, which make up Oregon’s Region 5, had 92 people hospitalized for COVID on Wednesday. That’s more than on any day during the winter, even in January, the previous peak for hospitalizations.

On Friday, Dr. Melissa Sutton, medical director of respiratory viral pathogens for the Oregon Health Authority, announced a new vaccine effectiveness study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Using data from Oregon and 13 other states, the study found that all three vaccines reduced the risk of hospitalization tremendously. Among 7,000 patients ages 65 and older, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines reduced hospitalization risk by 91% to 96%. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine reduced it by 84% to 85%. Sutton said the results prove the vaccines are working exceptionally well in older patients, and the OHA believes they will work as well or better among younger people.

Getting vaccinated is the best way to avoid serious illness and death from COVID, Sutton said. And the delta variant now circulating is two to three times more infectious than previous variants.

“For unvaccinated individuals,” she said, “the risk of COVID-19 has literally never been greater.”

Local residents chafed for months under strict shutdown rules and mask requirements. After the vaccines were easily available to anyone who wanted them, cases plummeted and restrictions were eased. And we are now seeing the results among those who still didn’t get vaccinated.

If you are thinking you’ll continue to take your chances without the vaccine, think again. Realize that being hospitalized does not mean you will be cured and sent home.

An ICU nurse at Providence in Portland interviewed by Oregon Public Broadcasting put it bluntly.

“We can’t fix you,” she said. “We can treat you, but we can’t cure you. You have to cure yourself.”

Just get the shot.