LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan health and business officials on Thursday renewed their plea for people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, citing hospital workforce shortages, unnecessary deaths and concerns that end-of-summer travel and the return to school could fuel a surge in cases.
About 59% of Michigan residents ages 12 and older have been fully vaccinated and 65% have gotten at least one dose. Those figures trail behind the national rates of 62% and 73%.
Brian Peters, CEO of the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, said hospitals are operating at near capacity as coronavirus caseloads rise and high numbers of non-COVID-19 patients seek care they delayed earlier in the pandemic. The number of adults hospitalized with the disease Wednesday — 1,300 — was well below the state’s peak of roughly 4,100 in April. However, Peters said there are fewer employees and non-virus patients who waited need higher levels of care and longer hospital stints.
“Our staffing is stressed to a level that we have not seen previously,” Peters said. “One of the ways to prevent that is to get the vaccine. There’s just no question.”
Physicians said there is a new dimension of stress, sadness and fatigue on the front lines, as people die after refusing vaccines that work.
Dr. Geneva Tatum, associate division head of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the six-hospital Henry Ford Health System in southeastern Michigan, said she is “heartbroken and discouraged by patients who continue to remain unvaccinated because they thought they could outrun the disease.” Of the system’s 111 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, 77% were unvaccinated, nearly 14% were fully vaccinated and 9% were between doses.
Dr. Nicole Linder is the chief hospitalist at OSF St. Francis Hospital & Medical Group in Escanaba in the Upper Peninsula, where six counties top the state with the highest two-week case rates. She said health care workers were hopeful that enough people would receive the vaccine to end the pandemic, but the hospital is confronting a wave of new infections. The patients and usually their family members distrust medicine, which is partly why they did not get vaccinated, she said.
Linder told the story of an unvaccinated patient whom she treated for the past three weeks. While hospitalized, the woman made calls to persuade at least six family members and friends to get vaccinated.
“But it was too late for her,” Linder said. “Despite everything that could possibly be done for her, she’s going to lose her battle and lose her life. She’s vivacious and gregarious and just a wonderful person. This did not have to happen. Her family didn’t have to lose her. I am fatigued and I am heartsick and I am tired of watching people suffer needlessly and die of a disease that could have been prevented by a simple and safe and effective vaccine.”
People overestimate the effectiveness of coronavirus treatments in comparison to vaccines, she said.
“We truly need to get the message across that our best treatment for COVID is to never get it in the first place,” Linder said.
Business leaders joined in vaccination push. Vaccines, they said, can keep schools and child care centers open, protect employees on the job, give comfort to customers and prevent government-ordered capacity restrictions.
President Joe Biden on Thursday announced sweeping new federal vaccine requirements affecting as many as 100 million Americans, including businesses that employ at least 100 workers — who must be vaccinated or get tested weekly. A previously announced mandate for nursing home employees was to be expanded to include those in hospitals and other health care facilities.
Many Michigan hospitals already are requiring workers to be vaccinated, though others are not.
Biden also called on governors to mandate vaccines for teachers and school staff. Nine states have done so, but Michigan is not among them.
A spokesman for Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said her office was reviewing the president’s plan. She previously said she did not plan to issue “broad” masking or vaccine requirements.