An Alabama doctor is speaking out about treating unvaccinated coronavirus patients, encouraging those who haven’t gotten the shot to do so and warning that “it’s not too late, but someday it might be.”
Dr. Brytney Cobia, a physician at Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham, published an emotional post to her Facebook on Sunday, reflecting on the “very serious” COVID cases she’s seeing at the hospital.
“I’m admitting young healthy people to the hospital with very serious COVID infections,” she said. “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.”
Alabama has the lowest vaccination rate in the country, with 33.7 percent of its population fully vaccinated, according to data from the Mayo Clinic. The state, like the rest of the US, is seeing a surge in cases and hospitalizations due to rise of the more contagious Delta variant, which is attacking more aggressively in younger age groups compared to previous virus strains.
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.
Experts have called COVID-19 “a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” with recent outbreaks largely among those who are unvaccinated and in communities. State officials in Alabama reported that 94 percent COVID hospital patients that have died from the virus since April were unvaccinated. In Massachusetts, vaccination rates are among the highest in the nation, with 63.2 percent of the population fully vaccinated, second only to Vermont’s 67.1 percent of fully-vaccinated residents.
While “breakthrough” cases cannot be ruled out among those who are vaccinated, experts say hospitalizations and deaths are increasingly rare. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have proven effective in preventing against the Delta variant, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has proven less effective, according to a lab study published Tuesday.
Cobia told AL.com that all but one of her COVID patients in Alabama did not receive the vaccine. The vaccinated patient, she said, just needed a little oxygen and is expected to fully recover. Some of the others are dying.
“...When I call time of death,” Cobia continued on Facebook, “I hug their family members and I tell them the best way to honor their loved ones is to go get vaccinated and encourage everyone they know to do the same.”
She continued: “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’. 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.”
In an interview with AL.com, Cobia told the publication that treating COVID patients now is a different story than it was in the beginning.
“You kind of go into it thinking, ‘OK, I’m not going to feel bad for this person, because they make their own choice,’” Cobia said. “But then you actually see them, you see them face-to-face, and it really changes your whole perspective, because they’re still just a person that think they made the best decision that they could with the information that they have, and all the misinformation that’s out there.”
Cobia said the current wave of the Delta variant reminds her of the time between October and November of 2020, just before Alabama’s peak of coronavirus cases and deaths.
“What we saw in December 2020, and January 2021, that was the absolute peak, the height of the pandemic, where I was signing 10 death certificates a day,” she said. “Now, it’s certainly not like that, but it’s very reminiscent of probably October, November of 2020, where we know there’s a lot of big things coming up.”
The publication reported that Cobia worries the upcoming school year will bring about a similar surge.
“All these kids are about to go back to school. No mask mandates are in place at all, 70% of Alabama is unvaccinated. Of course, no kids are vaccinated for the most part because they can’t be,” Cobia said. “So it feels like impending doom, basically.”
According to AL.com, Cobia contracted the virus last summer while 27 weeks pregnant with her second child. Her symptoms were mild, but the child was delivered early out of caution and suffered no serious complications. She received the vaccine in December when health care workers became eligible.
“I did not hesitate to get it,” she said. “There was a lot unknown at that time, because I was still breastfeeding about whether that was safe or not. I talked to as many other physician colleagues as I could and spoke with my OB as far as data that she had available and decided to continue breastfeeding after vaccination.”
For those hesitant to receive the vaccine, Cobia recommends speaking to a primary care physician, just as she did.
“I try to be very non-judgmental when I’m getting a new COVID patient that’s unvaccinated, but I really just started asking them, ‘Why haven’t you gotten the vaccine?’”
“And the 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? And so far, nobody has answered yes to that question.”