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Oregon's sickest COVID-19 patients are not vaccinated

Some medical workers are upset because they say the suffering of sick patients and their families is preventable with the vaccine.

PORTLAND, Oregon — Some Oregon doctors who see patients struggling to survive COVID-19 infection say they’re angry because they feel the suffering preventable because of the vaccine.

“I just finished a week in the intensive care unit and just finished up a week this morning taking care of the sickest of the sick using a special therapy called ECMO,” said Dr. David Zonies, the associate chief medical officer for critical care at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). 

ECMO therapy is the most aggressive option when all others are gone. It pumps blood outside the body where a special machine takes out carbon dioxide and puts in oxygen, according to Mayo Clinic. It bypasses the heart and lungs and allows them to rest and recover.

Dr. Zonies said the patients he’s treated are very sick and not vaccinated.

“For the last several weeks, what we have seen is the only patients who are getting so sick are those who are unvaccinated, meaning those with COVID entering our ICUs primarily are unvaccinated people,” Dr. Zonie said.

Since the vaccine is now so easy to get and there is a statewide surplus, Dr. Zonie believes COVID is preventable. The fact that people are still getting so sick is upsetting, he said. 

RELATED: Six months after Oregon's first COVID-19 shot, Multnomah County vaccination effort shifts toward outreach

“I will tell you as a physician, it is very frustrating. It is very disheartening and it's actually creating a fair amount of anger across my colleagues,” he said.

Statewide, the Oregon Health Authority reported Tuesday, June 15, a significant but dwindling number of people hospitalized because of COVID-19.

172 people were in hospitals around the state, 46 of them in the intensive care unit. A large percentage were likely missing that simple step that could have kept them safe: a COVID vaccine shot. 

Nationally, the trend is similar.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average number of people hospitalized with COVID in early January was 125,000. Now it’s down to 16,000. 

Doctors across the country are reporting most of their sick COVID patients were not vaccinated against the virus.

Leaders like Washington Gov. Jay Inslee are using the numbers to drive home the point that everyone eligible should get the shot.

“98% of all the people in our hospitals today, some of whom are struggling for breath, some of whom may not survive — 98% are people who have not been vaccinated. We gotta save lives,” Inslee said.

RELATED: Polk County expected to move to lower risk level soon

Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines said she's seen the trend as well.

“I don’t have exact numbers, but the number you cited rings true for me as far as where we as a region and as a state are landing," Dr. Vines said. "The vast majority of people being hospitalized with COVID now are not vaccinated."

Dr. Vines said the hospital numbers demonstrate that the vaccine works.

“So that is a testament to what we’ve seen on the other side which is these vaccines are proven in real world circumstances to be very good at protecting people from severe COVID-19,” said Dr. Vines.

Dr. Zonies said if you are not vaccinated, you should get that done now, before it is too late.

“Without a doubt, when I talk to families — when we are in terrible, dire situations — the response is always the same. I didn’t get vaccinated. I wish my loved one would have been vaccinated. At that point it’s too late," he said.

New cases and vaccinations

On Wednesday, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) reported 247 new COVID cases and seven more deaths linked to the virus. 

There's been a total of 205,698 cases reported statewide, including 2,744 deaths.

OHA said 2,065,711 Oregonians have completed a COVID vaccine series and more than 2,335,586 have received at least one dose. 

Another 60,625 adults in Oregon need a first dose of the vaccine in order to meet the 70% threshold for lifting most COVID restrictions statewide.

In the past seven days, Oregon has administered an average of 15,803 vaccine doses per day. 

Have a comment or news tip for Pat Dooris? Email him at pdooris@kgw.com