GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — For Spectrum Health doctors, the biggest and most important piece of advice when it comes to COVID-19 is the same as it has been all year: Get vaccinated.
Dr. Liam Sullivan, an infectious disease specialist with Spectrum Health, reminded poeple during a Wednesday discussion with journalists that even those who are young and healthy can get COVID-19 and become sick.
“When you get vaccinated, that astronomically decreases everyone’s risk of getting hospitalized and getting severe COVID-19 infection,” he said.
As of Tuesday, 65.3% of Michigan residents age 16 and up had received at least one dose of the vaccine. The state is aiming to hit 70%. Federal health officials have recommended a booster dose eight months after finishing the initial course; that milestone will start coming up for many soon.
Sullivan urged people who are nervous about the vaccines to talk to their doctor about their concerns so they can get answers from someone they trust.
Doctors say people should also continue doing the things we’ve been doing throughout the pandemic: practicing social distancing, avoiding large gatherings, washing hands frequently and wearing masks in public places — even if you’re vaccinated and especially in schools, where many children are not vaccinated.
The highly transmissible delta variant has been driving a recent uptick in cases, with Michigan averaging about 2,160 reported cases each of the last two days. The positive test rate has bounced between 7.85% and 11.1% over the last week. Health officials prefer to see that figure at or below 3% to show community spread is controlled.
Sullivan said the curve we’re seeing now is similar to previous surges, but also said that more data is needed to get a clearer idea of what will happen next. Case numbers are expected to keep rising for a while but doctors say it’s difficult to say what that will mean for hospitalizations, especially with hope that full Food and Drug Administration approval of the Pfizer vaccine may encourage more people to get the shots.
Statewide, more than 1,100 adults were in the hospital confirmed to have the virus as of Wednesday, a figure up about 260 over the course of a week. Spectrum Health had 112 COVID-19 inpatients. That’s up from 76 a week ago.
“There’s been a pretty steep increase in COVID-19 cases in the last several weeks,” Sullivan said. “And probably one of the biggest differences between this surge and previous surges is they’re younger patients, unfortunately, and, obviously, largely unvaccinated.”
Twenty of Spectrum’s patients have been vaccinated while 92 have not. Sullivan noted that about half of the vaccinated patients were admitted to the hospital for some other reason, like an injury, but were screened as a matter of protocol and tested positive even though they were asymptomatic.
“The vast majority of vaccinated people who get COVID-19 are either asymptomatic or when they do have symptoms, they’re very mild,” Sullivan said. “They get a bad cold and they get over their symptoms in a few days and they don’t develop severe respiratory distress and COVID-19 pneumonia warranting admission to the hospital.”
He also noted that those who were vaccinated but contracted the virus often had some underlying immunodeficiency issue that would have made the vaccine less effective. Others are elderly and their response to the vaccine may not have been as robust or long-lasting because of their age. He said the numbers aren’t any higher than he expected.
“The other thing to keep in mind is that delta has been a game changer,” Sullivan added, explaining its better at infecting people and better at spreading between people.
He said anybody showing cold symptoms should get tested for the virus, especially because delta is often causing more nasal symptoms that may mimic a cold and because vaccinated people’s symptoms may be very much like a cold.
Dr. Rosemary Olivero, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, said that as of Wednesday, there were two children with COVID-19 at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and that both were in intensive care. In the last week, one child has been diagnosed with multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (or MIS-C), was treated and was released Tuesday.
Olivero said that over the course of the pandemic, one of DeVos’ patients has died of MIS-C, one had to undergo multiple amputations and some have had strokes. But the most common lasting result, she said, is heart inflammation that requires a lot of follow-up care.