Those who refuse to take COVID-19 vaccines are creating a deadly domino effect, said Dr. Marschall Runge, CEO of Michigan Medicine and dean of the University of Michigan Medical School.
They are getting sick, spreading the virus to loved ones and the community, filling hospital beds and using up scarce medical resources, Runge said during a Wednesday news conference.
“The bottom line is COVID-19 is not only life-threatening for those who have COVID-19. The surge of COVID-19 is putting others at risk by keeping us from delivering lifesaving care,” he said, for everything from heart attacks to cancer to strokes.
Runge said the death rate from cardiovascular disease went up 3% in 2020 after years of steady declines because people delayed treatment.
“People are dying at home all across the state and across the nation and at Michigan Medicine because our hospitals are full. And we need the public’s help to fight COVID-19 for all of us.”
The unvaccinated make up the vast majority of hospitalized COVID-19 patients at Michigan Medicine, he said, and every coronavirus patient who is on a ventilator is unvaccinated.
“It’s a dire situation across the state right now,” Runge said. “The state of Michigan reached a record high (number of) hospitalized COVID-19 patients this week — the highest number since the very beginning of the pandemic, now more than a year and a half ago.”
On Wednesday, confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations topped the Monday pandemic-setting record, rising to 4,463 statewide. More than 86% of the intensive care unit beds in Michigan are full.
Nine hospitals reported they were at 100% capacity, and 25 others reported they were at least 90% full.
“Vaccination is the only way out of this pandemic,” said Runge, who also is executive vice president for medical affairs at the University of Michigan.
“The unvaccinated are not just risking your own lives or those of your loved ones from COVID-19. You’re risking the lives of others who may die of preventable diseases who can’t get their needed health care.”
Staffing shortages also are playing a role in hospitals’ ability to manage the latest coronavirus surge, said Dr. David Miller, president of University of Michigan Health.
“We’ve had to close several much-needed beds in some of our critical care units,” he said. “And fewer appointments are available for patients eligible to receive monoclonal antibody treatments that can reduce hospitalizations and death for some patients with COVID-19.
“The current circumstances have consequences. At Michigan Medicine, we are continuing to cancel surgeries because we just don’t have the beds. This week alone, we’ve canceled more than 40.”
Capacity is stretched so tightly that the Ann Arbor-based health system — a major referral center for smaller hospitals around the state — can no longer accept transfers of patients with complex health conditions, Miller said.
“Our emergency department is overflowing and patients are waiting for beds at all our hospitals,” Miller said. “This is not how we or anyone wants to provide or receive health care. We need your partnership now to address and reverse this situation.”
He asked every Michigander who is unvaccinated to get the first dose.
“The vaccine might not just save your life, but also the lives of others — including our friends, family, neighbors, colleagues who are experiencing delays in the receipt of necessary care. If you’re already vaccinated, get a booster dose.
“We’re also asking everyone to carefully consider the need for care in the emergency department so we can ensure access for very sick patients.”
In a true emergency — anyone who is having chest or abdominal pain, stroke symptoms or difficulty breathing — he urged people not to delay treatment and to go the nearest emergency room.
But for more routine care, Miller asked the public to “please consider other options if they’re available to you.”
“Call your doctor. Schedule a virtual visit. Go to an urgent care center or even send a message through your online portal if this is an available option.”
Without a higher vaccination rate, and the community doing all it can to slow the spread of the virus by wearing masks in indoor settings and avoiding large gatherings and places with poor ventilation, Runge said, there is likely to be more unnecessary loss.
“People have died and will die of non-COVID-19 disease in our area, across the state and across the nation because COVID-19 is overrunning hospitals,” he said.
Contact Kristen Shamus: [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @kristenshamus.