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Oregon Emergency Docs Issue Vaccination Plea Amid COVID Surge

As COVID-19 overwhelms hospitals in Oregon, a group of emergency physicians there issued an open letter urging the community to get vaccinated.

Eugene Emergency Physicians, a group of 37 emergency physicians and 13 physician assistants contracted with PeaceHealth, noted that of the 1,037 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 in 2021 at PeaceHealth hospitals, through August 18, more than 96% were not fully vaccinated.

“We know that many of you will read this letter and have information from various sources that you feel supports the choice not to vaccinate yourself or your family,” they wrote. “We urge you to take a moment and consider the impacts of your decisions on the greater community. These vaccines are safe and effective.”

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While some patients have raised concerns about vaccinated people becoming infected with COVID-19, they countered that the “likelihood of contracting the virus is substantially lower. If you become infected following vaccination, the disease course is significantly milder.”

They painted a picture of what some of their hospitalized COVID-19 patients are experiencing: “Unfortunately, we are admitting younger and healthier people with complications from COVID-19. It is NOT a bad cold. It is NOT a bad flu. It hurts. It keeps people awake at night because of pain. It causes fluid to build up in the lungs making breathing difficult. It is AWFUL even in those not sick enough to require hospitalization.”

They also lamented their waning ability to care for the community’s needs: “We are running out of hospital beds in our state. We may soon be unable to adequately care for patients needing surgery for other ailments or treat medical conditions unrelated to COVID-19.”

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Oregon, like many states, is experiencing a surge in COVID hospitalizations, which have been steadily climbing, along with deaths, since mid-July, according to the state health department. The state reported 866 hospitalizations on Friday, 21 more than Thursday. On Friday, only 6% of adult ICU beds were free.

In Lane County, where Eugene is located, hospitalizations were up 188% and cases were up 125% compared with 2 weeks ago, according to a New York Times database.

Statewide, daily vaccination totals have been increasing “slightly,” the state reported; more than 2.3 million Oregonians were fully vaccinated as of Friday. The overall vaccination rate was 57%, according to the Times database. In Lane County, 57% of all residents were also fully vaccinated.

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The Eugene emergency physician group noted that all of its healthcare workers were voluntarily vaccinated, but there have been protests against vaccination near PeaceHealth facilities including those in Oregon, a spokesperson for the health system said. PeaceHealth is requiring full employee vaccination by August 31, barring a granted exemption, the spokesperson said in an email to MedPage Today.

“It doesn’t seem like the science and the facts are making a difference,” said Sarah Coleman, MD, an emergency physician who has been with the Eugene group since 2002. Their hope for their letter: “What if we could change a few peoples’ minds?”

Coleman added that the health system has had to cancel elective surgeries to accommodate swelling COVID patient loads. “We have no hospital beds, we have no ICU capabilities,” she said. “The only thing that’s going to save us is if people get vaccinated.”

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The medical community has welcomed the letter, Coleman said, but on social media people have accused the group of everything from lying about the vaccine’s effectiveness to withholding proper COVID treatments for patients.

But the Eugene group has statewide backing. On Friday, the Oregon chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) issued a similar call: “For COVID complications, the best way to stay out of the ER is to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” they wrote in a blog post. “They [vaccines] are the best tool we have to protect the public, including the healthcare workforce.”

“Our emergency departments are overflowing,” the post noted. “Regional hospitals are sending ICU patients to San Francisco and Utah. Elective surgeries are on hold. People are at risk of dying from trauma, heart attacks, and strokes, because unvaccinated people are utilizing all available ICU capacity, shutting down our operating rooms and delaying elective surgeries.”

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“At times there are people in the ER still waiting to be seen who were there before I began my shift and still waiting when I go home,” Mike McCaskill, MD, immediate past president of the state ACEP chapter, said in the post. “We are seriously worried.”

In addition, Oregon Health Authority director Patrick Allen said in a news release: “These vaccines are saving lives every day and I urge every Oregonian who has not yet received the vaccine to please make a plan.”

Last Updated August 24, 2021

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  • Ryan Basen reports for MedPage’s enterprise & investigative team. He has worked as a journalist for more than a decade, earning national and state honors for his investigative work. He often writes about issues concerning the practice and business of medicine. Follow

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