July 26, 2021

'I'm sorry, but it's too late': What it's like to treat unvaccinated patients dying of Covid-19

Daily Briefing

    In a now-viral Facebook post, physician Brytney Cobia shared her experiences treating unvaccinated, dying Covid-19 patients—and her hope that their deaths can help save the lives of others who remain hesitant about vaccination.

    Should you mandate a Covid-19 vaccine for your staff? Ask these 5 questions first.

    Alabama's 'pandemic of the unvaccinated'

    According to AL.com, which interviewed Cobia following her Facebook post, Cobia has been treating Covid-19 patients at Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama, throughout the pandemic.

    "Back in 2020 and early 2021, when the vaccine wasn't available, it was just tragedy after tragedy after tragedy," Cobia told AL.com. "You know, so many people [who] did all the right things, and yet still came in, and were critically ill and died."

    Now, Covid-19 vaccines have been widely available in the state for months, but almost 70% of Alabamians remain unvaccinated, AL.com reports. In what AL.com calls the "pandemic of the unvaccinated," state officials have reported that 94% of hospitalized Covid-19 patients and 96% of Covid-19 deaths since April were among those not fully vaccinated.

    Speaking with AL.com, Cobia reflected on the emotional challenges of treating unvaccinated patients. "[E]ven though I may walk into the room thinking, 'OK, this is your fault, you did this to yourself,' when I leave the room, I just see a person [who's] really suffering, and [who] is so regretful for the choice that they made," she said.

    'I'm sorry, but it's too late'

    In the Facebook post, Cobia wrote when she treats severely ill Covid-19 patients who were not vaccinated, she has found that "[o]ne 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."

    Cobia said she always encourages the patients' loved ones—if not yet vaccinated—to do so out of love for the deceased. "A few days later when I call time of death, I hug their family members and I tell them the best way to honor their loved one is to go get vaccinated and encourage everyone they know to do the same," Cobia wrote.

    According to Cobia, she often receives a similar response from patients' loved ones.

    "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 color they wouldn't get as sick. They thought it was 'just the flu,'" she wrote. "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."

    The importance of primary care doctors' opinions on Covid-19 vaccines

    Cobia said she received the vaccine last December when it was made available to public health workers, after contracting and recovering from the coronavirus while pregnant earlier in the year.

    Because she was still breastfeeding when she got vaccinated, Cobia said she sought out advice from her physician colleagues before deciding to continue breastfeeding.

    Cobia said she bears that experience in mind when talking to her unvaccinated patients about the vaccine, many of whom say they are hesitant because they "saw this thing on Facebook," or "got this email," or "saw this on the news."

    "[T]he one question that I always ask them is, did you make an appointment with your primary care doctor and ask them for their opinion on whether or not you should receive the vaccine?" she said.

    "And so far, nobody has answered 'yes' to that question." (Pillion, AL.com, 7/21)

    Should you mandate a Covid-19 vaccine for your staff?

    Ask these 5 questions first.

    clash

    Across the country, health care employers are facing a pressing question: How do you increase the number of staff vaccinated against Covid-19? Advisory Board's Miriam Sznycer-Taub, Lauren Woodrow, and Heather Bell spoke with Kimberly Daniel, partner at the health care law firm Hancock, Daniel & Johnson, P.C about the implications of mandating Covid-19 vaccines for your employees.

    Read more

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