Health officials across Michigan urge vaccines, warn of fourth COVID-19 surge

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Medical leaders from 21 of Michigan's top health care institutions issued an open letter to the public on Wednesday, pleading with people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The letter was signed by the chief medical and nursing officers at hospitals from Detroit's major health systems to Spectrum Health in West Michigan, MidMichigan Health in Midland, War Memorial Hospital in Sault St. Marie and the veterans hospitals in Ann Arbor and Battle Creek. 

They warned Michigan appears to be heading into a fourth COVID-19 surge with a rise in cases that they contend could be avoided if everyone got vaccinated. 

"Unlike previous surges, we finally have free, widely available, highly effective and safe vaccines available to protect you and your family," the doctors and nurses wrote in their letter. 

In a full court press, the state health department, led by Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, issued its own statement Wednesday urging people to get the shots, noting the federal Food and Drug Administration's recent approval of the Pfizer vaccine.

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Every county in Michigan now has a "substantial" or "high" rate of COVID-19 transmission — levels at which the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend people should wear masks indoors in public, or outdoors where social distancing isn't possible.

Cases are up significantly since early August, when fewer than half of Michigan counties had substantial or high rates of spread. 

Michigan had 1,147 adults and 16 children hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19 on Wednesday, according to data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Another 91 adults and 4 children were hospitalized with suspected coronavirus infections but didn't have their test results yet. 

About 65% of Michigan's population age 16 and older had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Friday.

In a full court press, the state health department issued its own statement Wednesday urging people to get the shots, noting the federal Food and Drug Administration's recent approval of the Pfizer vaccine. 

“For Michiganders who have been waiting for this approval, now is the time to get the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine and join the more than 4.7 million Michigan residents who are already fully vaccinated," said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS.

"The vaccine is our best defense against the virus and the way we are going to end this pandemic together.”

Henry Ford Health System's chief medical officer and chief nursing officer echoed the call during a Wednesday media briefing, noting the public can avert a potential health care crisis by getting vaccinated.

Dr. Adnan Munkarah, Henry Ford's executive vice president and chief clinical officer, said a rush of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients could threaten hospitals' ability to respond to patients with heart attacks, strokes and other life-threatening conditions. 

"If we don’t get more people vaccinated our collective health system will be strained again," Munkarah said. "Our hospitals might not have the capacity to care for everybody who needs care in the hospital."

Some state lawmakers have pushed back on efforts to encourage more Michiganians to get vaccinated for the virus. 

Abby Walls, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said in recent weeks that he's opposed to initiatives, including the state's recent vaccine lottery, that he's deemed "coercive."

Barbara Rossman, president and CEO of Henry Ford Macomb Hospital and chief nursing officer for the Henry Ford Health System, noted the potential fourth surge would coincide with a historic shortage of registered nurses and other health professionals. 

"(Nurses) have few chances to catch their breath after 18 months of this pandemic. And the emotional and physical toll is not sustainable," Rossman said

The chief nursing officer said nurses were filled with a new sense of hope when the vaccines became available.   

"Now the sacrifices they're making are met with a looming fourth surge, so clearly unnecessary given the solution is right in front of us and readily available," Rossman said. "So we are calling on those who are on the fence about vaccination to please trust their health care professionals.

"You trusted us when making other medical decisions in your life. Please, you can trust us now."

Twitter: @kbouffardDN