As Florida continues to experience a surge in COVID-19 cases due to the more transmissible Delta variant, a hospital executive has a message for roughly six million Floridians who have not yet decided to get vaccinated: the long term effects of the vaccine might be unknown, but so are the long term effects of COVID.
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Florida recorded 25,991 confirmed new COVID cases last week, according to the data from the Florida Hospital Association (FHA). That same week, FHA confirmed 15,656 COVID hospitalizations. Unvaccinated individuals make up the majority of hospitalizations, according to hospital leaders.
Justin Senior, CEO for the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, said there has been an uptick in people getting vaccinated in response to the case surge. He also noted most hospitalizations are from unvaccinated individuals.
A state profile report from HealthData.gov shows Florida hospitals received about 9,000 COVID admissions per week during the surge of cases in January 2021, compared to over 15,000 this week. Senior notes this was before the vaccines were widely available, and when a higher percentage of the state population was at risk of getting COVID.
After counting vaccinated Floridians and those who previously got COVID, Senior estimates about six million of the state’s 22 million residents remain unvaccinated and more susceptible to severe illness.
“That very small population has created a bigger surge than anything we’ve seen before.”
Even when factoring in children under 12, who are not currently eligible for the vaccine, Senior, who oversees both Johns Hopkins All Children’s and Nicklaus Children’s hospitals, says they make up a relatively small percentage of hospitalizations. He says hospitals are still monitoring the numbers:
“The children’s hospitals are not overwhelmed, they can really give those patients the attention they deserve and that they need, and can get them the best outcome. [The case numbers are] something to watch. If, suddenly, children were being affected in proportion to their population, this would be a very, very different ballgame in terms of emergency management, and it’s something that we’re watching really, really closely.”
Senior says a reason for vaccine hesitancy may be from a lack of data. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves vaccines through a multi-step process, which can take several years. The Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines were authorized by the FDA for emergency use in December 2020. The Janssen (Johnson and Johnson) vaccine was authorized in February 2021.
Senior acknowledged concerns over the shortened approval timeline.
“I do understand that, because it didn’t take eight years to get approval. They don’t have eight years of data on the people that were in the trial. I understand that … it’s theoretically possible that something could happen long term, but we don’t know the long term effects of having had COVID either.
…I would encourage people to get the vaccine. You can see in our data without any doubt that they work.”