Unvaccinated Remain Amongst Banner’s Sickest

University Medical Center Phoenix and Banner Health vaccination site at the Arizona State Fairgrounds.

Jonson Kuhn | North Forty News

The numbers are up, the numbers are down, the number of COVID cases are literally all around; the butcher says this, the baker says that, and the candlestick maker says something different altogether. Three weeks ago, (November 12) FOX 31 released a story stating that “according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), there are 68 National Guard members working throughout the state” in an effort to provide supplemental staffing assistance for certain hospitals experiencing high numbers of COVID patients.  Then, however, take a story published by 9 News just a mere two days ago (November 30) where the same organization from the previous story, the CDPHE, specifically CDPHE State Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy stated “the latest data show there has been a fairly significant decrease in cases being reported.”

Now, let’s be clear, this isn’t an example of misinformation by any means, it simply means that the information is fluctuating at such a rate that it’s hard to stay on top of an accurate estimate for any given amount of time. However, numbers aside, one thing that is for certain is that COVID is still very much among us and mutating into new variants all the time, from Delta to now Omicron and I’m sure Megatron won’t be far behind that. The point is, this virus, so it seems, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and while that can be a sobering or daunting thought, a bigger pill to swallow is that our very actions, or lack thereof, may just be the very thing inviting COVID for a perhaps unnecessary extended stay.

“I can tell you that the people who are the sickest are not vaccinated.  So, I know the vaccine is new and we still don’t know a lot about it, and you might be hesitant because we don’t know what the long term effects might be, and I respect that and I get it, but from what we’re seeing, yes, the sickest patients are not vaccinated.”

That’s Alexandria Rende, she’s a nurse in the intensive care unit at Banner McKee Medical Center in Loveland.  She’s been with McKee since August of 2019 and she could tell you that within that time she and other nurses in her unit have kept pretty busy, to say the least.  Though cases have declined in recent days, as have COVID-related deaths compared to when things first started, the one thing that has remained consistent throughout is that the sickest are those who aren’t vaccinated.

Alexandria Rende at Banner McKee Medical Center in Loveland, CO.

“When we have looked at the data, we have found that about 80% of all of our hospitalized COVID+ patients in Banner hospitals were unvaccinated,” Alexandria added.

To be fair, it doesn’t help when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) itself continues changing information almost seemingly on a weekly basis, but this is raw data and information coming straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.  While we know vaccinated people can and have still spread the virus, we also know that if vaccinated, your chances of spreading decrease significantly.  While being vaccinated, our chances of spreading the virus are lower simply because our chances of catching it are lower, as is laid out in an article from The Atlantic just last month.  The article actually quotes University of Colorado School of Medicine Professor Ross Kedl and though the two studies he points to had yet to be peer-reviewed at the time of the article’s publishing, there seems to be enough of a general consensus coming forward from the medical community to back such claims up.

According to Banner’s Regional Marketing and Public Relations Director Sara Quale, “One thing that’s important to keep in mind, we do have COVID patients occupying our ICU beds, but there’s also a need for ICU beds for things like trauma or heart patients or oncology patients who are critical.”

She brings up an excellent point; it’s not just simply a matter of COVID cases being on the rise, it is that normal life continues as it would otherwise, and in normal life, ICU beds are still needed for all of the non-COVID related patients.  So, the very fair argument could be made that by getting the vaccine you’re ultimately cutting down on how many ICU beds are being occupied, which then assures you or your loved one have an appropriate place for open-heart surgery as opposed to it being performed in the parking lot on the hood of someone’s car, (that’s my own dramatic creative licensing, I’m not suggesting that has or ever will/would actually happen).

In addition to the consistency of unvaccinated folks being the sickest, another aspect of this pandemic that seems to be holding strong is the tremendous stress and strain felt by our country’s medical staff and there’s no exception to that being felt right here in Northern Colorado.  Alli Lackey is a nurse and interim associate director in the intensive care unit for Banner North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley and she says, as nurses, it’s a constant battle to remind themselves that they are making a difference even if it doesn’t always feel that way.

Alli Lackey at Banner North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley, CO.

“I just see a lot of people working really hard and we’re exhausted, the nurses are exhausted […] when people have moments, we try really hard to give each other perspective on all of this; we didn’t cause it and we’re not the cure for it.  Banner has worked really hard at doing wellness in nursing this year […] I know as a family in our unit we’re really good with helping each other remember why we got into healthcare and we tell each other it’s not going to be like this forever.”

Dr. Gregory Golden, the pulmonary and critical care specialist with Banner Health, expressed similar feelings.

“The mood is mixed.  I am amazed by the dedication, but they are tired and frustrated.  Although we will never, ever say no to anyone that comes in, the mood is trending towards feeling like this can be prevented, which is frustrating.”

Dr. Gregory Golden, pulmonary and critical care specialist at Banner Health.

When asked what message he might offer those still on the fence regarding vaccines, Dr. Golden further added, “First, I wish I could bring everyone into our intensive care units and see what this disease does. It wrecks your body and destroys families.  Second, I have always felt, and my faith teaches me, to care about others more than I care about myself.  I am willing to put myself and a fractional risk of side effects to possibly save the life of someone, that’s what my faith tells me.  We all have to have our reasons for everything we do in life. The way we raise our children, education, church, vaccination. We have values.  Just look inside and figure out what your heart says.”

North Forty thanks all of the staff at Banner Health who participated in this article; for further information on COVID, vaccines, or your otherwise general health, please visit bannerhealth.com.

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