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Hospitals: Most COVID patients are unvaccinated

By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Hospitals in Birmingham are seeing a surge in COVID-19 patients — usually unvaccinated and often younger — as doctors and administrators pleaded Wednesday for people to get vaccinated.

Doctors and administrators at seven Birmingham hospitals participated in a media briefing to discuss the recent surge in cases. The overwhelming majority of current COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated, and patients tend to be younger than they were at the start of the pandemic before vaccines were available, the hospitals officials said.

Dr. Elizabeth Ennis, chief medical officer of Brookwood Baptist Health, said the delta variant of the virus is moving like “wildfire” through the state.

“What’s different this time is we are seeing much younger people in the hospital,” Ennis said. Vaccination rates have typically been higher in older age groups.

Across Alabama, the number of COVID-19 patients in state hospitals jumped from 213 on July 4 to 1,802 on Aug. 4, according to the Alabama Hospital Association. The current hospitalization numbers are far less than the 3,000 COVID-19 patients in state hospitals at the peak of the pandemic in January. However, health officials have expressed concern about the steep upward trend. As of Wednesday, there were 508 patients in state hospitals, compared to 848 on Jan. 12, said Dr. Don Williamson, head of the Alabama Hospital Association.

Alabama ranked fifth in the nation for new cases per capita in the past 14 days, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Alabama has risen over the past two weeks from 1,013.71 new cases per day on July 19 to 2,525.71 new cases per day on Aug. 2.

People who have been vaccinated can contract the coronavirus, but health officials have said they are far less likely to get seriously ill.

Dr. Jeremy Rogers, an emergency room physician and director of clinical services at Grandview Medical Center, said 92% of incoming COVID patients at his facility are unvaccinated, and a majority are under age 60. He said they recently admitted a 19-year-old with COVID.

“This is absolutely heartbreaking what we are seeing. It’s tragic. And unfortunately, it’s largely preventable,” Rogers said.

“We’ve talked a lot about vaccine hesitancy, but I’ve seen a lot of vaccine regret in patients, in family members that wish they would have been vaccinated sooner. Vaccines are widely available, and so now’s the time to get vaccinated before it’s too late,” Rogers said.

Dr. Timothy Bode, chief medical officer at Ascension St. Vincent’s Health System, said 88% of their nearly 100 COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated. He said 93% of COVID-19 patients in critical care units and on ventilators are unvaccinated.

Dr. Mark Wilson, health officer for the Jefferson County Department of Health, urged people to get vaccinated and to get back to basics with wearing masks and avoiding crowds.

“We are in a big scary surge right now,” Wilson said.

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