As the United States grapples with the surging Delta variant of Covid-19, medical experts across the country are desperately trying to convince hesitant Americans to get vaccinated.
That includes experts in the national spotlight, such as Anthony Fauci and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. But doctors at the local level are also speaking out.
One of them is Dr Brytney Cobia.
Dr Cobia works at Grandview Medical Centre in Birmingham, Alabama, the state with the country’s lowest percentage of fully vaccinated people (33.7 per cent).
According to Alabama’s Department of Public Health, 94 per cent of the people hospitalised with covid there since April and 96 per cent of those who’ve died have been unvaccinated.
“I’m admitting young, healthy people to the hospital with very serious covid infections,” Dr Cobia wrote in a heartwrenching Facebook post this week.
“One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late.
“A few days later when I call time of death, I hug their family members and I tell them the best way to honour their loved one is to go get vaccinated and encourage everyone they know to do the same.
“They cry. And they tell me they didn’t know. They thought it was a hoax. They thought it was political. They thought because they had a certain blood type or a certain skin colour they wouldn’t get as sick. They thought it was ‘just the flu’.
“But they were wrong. And they wish they could go back. But they can’t. So they thank me and they go get the vaccine. And I go back to my office, write their death note, and say a small prayer that this loss will save more lives.”
Alabama exited its state of emergency on July 6, and its Republican Governor, Kay Ivey, has rescinded most covid restrictions.
“This is absolutely now a managed pandemic,” Ms Ivey said in May, when she announced the state of emergency would end.
“Alabama is open and we are moving forward.”
She has urged all Alabamians to get vaccinated.
At the national level, while almost half of eligible Americans are fully vaccinated – some 160 million people – about two-thirds of the nation’s counties still have vaccine coverage below 40 per cent. And the pace of the vaccine rollout has been slowing steadily for months.
In mid-April, the US was averaging more than three million vaccinations per day. That figure is now hovering at just over 500,000.
The country missed President Joe Biden’s goal of giving at least 70 per cent of adults one dose by Independence Day on July 4, having beaten previous targets.
Meanwhile, covid infections and hospitalisations are rising in all 50 states. Last week the US averaged 239 deaths per day, an increase of 48 per cent over the previous week.
“The majority of these deaths could be prevented with a simple, safe, available vaccine,” Dr Walensky, head of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, told a congressional hearing on Tuesday.
“Areas with limited vaccine are allowing for the emergence and rapid spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant.”
Dr Walensky revealed that the Delta variant now accounts for 83 per cent of new cases in the US. That’s a “dramatic increase” from the week of July 3, when it was about 50 per cent.
She said the CDC was engaging “trusted community leaders”, such as doctors and pastors, to reinforce messages about the efficacy and safety of the vaccines.
“The overwhelming number of deaths from Covid-19 are now occurring in unvaccinated people. Vaccines are widely available across the country, and this suffering and loss is simply and entirely preventable.”
Those remarks followed a public health briefing on Friday, at which Dr Walensky referred to covid in the US as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated”.
“We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage, because unvaccinated people are at risk, and the communities that are fully vaccinated are generally faring well,” she said.
“The good news is that if you’re fully vaccinated, you are protected against severe covid, hospitalisation and death, and are even protected against the known variants, including the Delta variant.
“If you are not vaccinated, you remain at risk. And our biggest concern is that we’re going to continue to see preventable cases, hospitalisations and, sadly, deaths among the unvaccinated.”