ICUs full of unvaccinated patients, one year after the first COVID vaccines

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Tuesday marks one year since COVID-19 vaccinations became available in the United States to those who qualified for them.

Medical experts in Iowa looked back on the last year of administering vaccines to the general public, and they are still shocked with how full intensive care units (ICUs) are with COVID-19 patients. Nearly 80% of Iowa’s COVID-19 patients in ICUs right now are not fully vaccinated against the disease, according to Iowa Department of Public Health data.

“Looking back a year ago, I don’t know if any of us would have expected to be in this same state,” said Lance Schmitt, the chief nursing officer with Broadlawns Medical Center. “Being this busy with this many patients and the staffing challenges kind of hit people out of nowhere.”

ICUs are still extremely full with COVID-19 patients. A local infection disease expert said that he expected some people to not want to take the vaccine, but nowhere close to the number of unvaccinated today.

“We always suspected there would always be a segment or a portion of the population that would be slow to adopt or slow to accept vaccines,” said Dr. Ravi Vemuri with MercyOne Des Moines. “Wouldn’t be as quick as we like, but I don’t think anyone would have expected it would have been this high of a percentage.”

Vemuri added that they are licensed for 800 beds, but they don’t have the staff to be able to run even close to that number. MercyOne in Des Moines has around 80 ICU beds. They are mostly taken up by COVID-19 patients, with the majority unvaccinated.

“We are seeing predominantly in our hospitals unvaccinated people,” said Vemuri. “And of those that are vaccinated, we are seeing unfortunately those that are eligible for boosters, they for some reason have not gotten their boosters yet.”

Both Schmitt and Vemuri urge those in the public who have not gotten the shot to get it before the holiday season. For those who are planning to get their booster, Vemuri encourages COVID-19 testing before gathering with large groups of family and friends.

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