Dr. Robin Trotman says the shift in COVID-19 patients we have seen in the past couple of weeks has him concerned.
He spoke with local media on Tuesday about the alarming rise in younger patients. And the solution that is readily available: vaccination.
“We are seeing a rush in our hospital of acutely ill patients,” he told reporters. “We were accustomed to seeing older patients, but over the past couple of weeks, we are seeing more patients I would not have expected to become severely ill from this infection.”
Those patients included an 18-year-old, a 31-year-old and a 40-year-old. All previously healthy people now struggling in the ICU with severe COVID pneumonia.
“Our community has to know that the demographic is shifting. I can’t predict who is going to become critically ill. Every day the last two weeks, I have been surprised by the severity of illness in young, healthy people.”
It is hard to say if the rise is due to a variant, but one thing is absolutely clear: All of these patients were unvaccinated.
“For the most part, our patients admitted with severe COVID pneumonia are not vaccinated,” Dr. Trotman says.
CoxHealth has seen one or two patients with severe COVID pneumonia who were vaccinated, but Dr. Trotman notes that those patients are exceptions to the rule. Both were severely immunocompromised and unlikely to respond well to any vaccine.
“We need to be concerned about increasing vaccine uptake. It is all we have,” Dr. Trotman says. “If you are not immune to this virus, you are going to get sick. You are a sitting duck.”
VACCINES ARE THE SOLUTION
You can see proof of the power of vaccines by looking at the numbers for our own employees.
Before vaccination, we had 30-40 hospitalized employees with COVID pneumonia. Since the vaccine, we haven’t had any vaccinated staff members come into the hospital with COVID pneumonia.
“In our staff, the vaccine has accomplished exactly what we intended. It has kept workers safe,” Dr. Trotman says.
CoxHealth leaders want everyone – employees and the community – to have that protection by taking the simple step of getting vaccinated.
Dr. Trotman says the vaccines are clearly safe. Experts are following hundreds of millions of patients and are not seeing complications.
“I can’t think of anything that is going to surprise any of us with long-term consequences, or side effects.”
Early questions about the vaccines’ potential effect on fertility are now settled.
“We have lots of pregnant people who have received this vaccine. In large studies, the same fraction of people became pregnant who received the vaccine vs. those who received the placebo,” Dr. Trotman says. “The fertility issues have been wiped off the table.”
DEALING WITH VARIANTS
Dr. Trotman also answered several questions about variants, pointing out that vaccination is key to slowing the evolution of the virus.
“This virus wants a host and to replicate. It wants to develop more virulence and to replicate more. That is its goal. If you are vaccinated, it doesn’t replicate.”
So far, vaccines are effective against the current variants. They prevent severe illness and they slow the virus’ ability to evolve and become even more dangerous.
That’s one reason why it is important to get as many people as possible vaccinated, including younger adults and teenagers.
“The virus is looking for any susceptible host to reproduce and transmit. As the virus replicates unchecked, it is going to evolve,” Dr. Trotman says. “It is going to become more resistant to immunity and therapeutics, and that can be a Pandora’s Box.
“Right now, our vaccination rates in our state and our community are not good enough to protect us from this.”
‘THIS DOESN’T HAVE TO HAPPEN’
CoxHealth President and CEO Steve Edwards told reporters that we are more prepared than ever to manage COVID-19 patients, but those efforts could be mostly avoided if more people were vaccinated.
“I regret that we have patients who could have been protected, but have been confused or exposed to misinformation and have not protected themselves,” he says. “It breaks our hearts – this doesn’t have to happen.”
He points out that while CoxHealth has far fewer patients than we saw at our peak, the cases are severe. The mortality rate in the ICU is 40 percent: If we see 10 patients, we see four deaths.
Vaccination could have prevented those deaths.
“We thought as soon as we had the vaccine, everyone would take it,” Edwards says. “It is safer and far more efficacious that we could have dreamed of. We didn’t count on misinformation, and people getting paid to send out misinformation to mislead people. We didn’t count on the politicization of this, too.”
While slow vaccination rates are frustrating, Edwards says he knows we don’t always do what is best for us. Doctors tell us to exercise and get more sleep, and yet many of us don’t follow that expert advice.
It is something we can all get better at, and following advice on an issue as crucial as vaccines is a great place to start.
“Please listen to your doctors. This is the single most important thing: get the vaccine.”