By David M. Greenwald
On Tuesday, the US set a new record for most new COVID cases in a day, topping 267 thousand, more than double what it was a week ago. As I noted in Sunday’s column, it seems likely that the US will top 500,000 before this surge subsides, and even if you believe that Omicron is less severe, that is going to tax hospital beds to the breaking point.
As noted on Sunday, roughly 15 percent of the adult population is not vaccinated at all—that is roughly 40 million people—while breakthroughs can and do occur, the vast majority of the cases and most serious cases are with those who are unvaccinated.
With many opposing mandated vaccinations, there is another option—those who decline vaccination are simply not be eligible for hospital beds. As a story that is starting to percolate nationally suggests, this issue is likely to come to a head sooner rather than later.
The Washington Post tells the story of a man in Iowa, diagnosed with sepsis last month, who ended up dying waiting for a hospital bed. The family is angry and has gone public with their anger.
The Post reports, “But at a time when unvaccinated covid-19 patients have again overwhelmed hospitals because of the fast-spreading omicron variant, finding an available bed at a large medical center able to give him the treatment he needed proved to be difficult. Weeks was being treated at a small, rural hospital. He had waited 15 days to be transferred to a larger hospital with better treatment options, because facilities throughout Iowa did not have an open bed for him as a result of the latest hospital surge of unvaccinated patients, his children told The Washington Post.”
He finally was able to have surgery but the two-week delay caused his condition to worsen, and he died from complications at 78.
His son “said that the family believes their vaccinated and boosted father was the latest indirect victim of the pandemic — and that he would have survived his sepsis diagnosis if he was immediately admitted to a larger medical center that had an open bed.
“The frustrating thing was not that we wanted him to get care that others weren’t getting, but that he didn’t get care when he needed it. And when he did get it, it was too late,” he said. “The question comes up of: ‘Who was in those beds?’ If it’s people who are unvaccinated with covid, then that’s the part where it really hurts.”
Owenson added: “The thing that bothers me the most is people’s selfish decision not to get vaccinated and the failure to see how this affects a greater group of people. That’s the part that’s really difficult to swallow.”
The COVID vaccination issue has become a political football with people who are anti-vax arguing that things like vaccinations and even mask mandates are a matter of individual freedom. But there are drawbacks to that approach.
The most obvious is Omicron—and other likely new variants that will emerge and mutate because COVID is still running unchecked through swaths of the population.
But the second impact is resources—if hospitals and health staff are utilizing scarce resources on those who have made a conscious choice to ignore best medical advice, that means that people who have played by the rules may not get the lifesaving treatment they need. It may be for COVID, but, as this case shows, it could be for something completely unrelated.
Even without these cases, hospitals are going to have to figure out how to address shortages and the issue of vaccination is likely to arise.
The Post reports, Iowa, for example, “is feeling the effects of unvaccinated covid-19 patients overwhelming hospitals amid the current surge. Almost 82 percent of hospitalized covid-19 patients in the state are unvaccinated, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health, and state data shows that more than 85 percent of covid-19 patients occupying beds in intensive care units are unvaccinated.”
The family is of course urging people to get vaccinated, but, in the bigger picture, the solution is probably to change how beds are allocated.