At least 15 people died last week from COVID-19 at St. Bernards Medical Center and the surge in deaths is still being fueled by unvaccinated patients. The Jonesboro-based medical provider reported that 98% of all deaths have been from unvaccinated patients since the last week of June.
The hospital had seven patients on ventilators, all of which were not vaccinated, and 26 patients in its ICU unit and 88% of them were not vaccinated. A total of 83 COVID-19 patients received treatment at the hospital last week, and 76% of those were unvaccinated, according to the hospital.
“COVID vaccination is the best way to prevent death and severe outcomes from COVID as our data shows,” the healthcare provider said in a news release.
As of Monday, Northeast Arkansas’s largest county, Craighead County, had the second highest number of new cases with 38, only trailing Pulaski. The county has had at least 228 reported deaths and currently has 742 active cases. Death counts are a lagging indicator, meaning it can take days or weeks for those totals to be updated accurately.
The state has 7,560 reported COVID-19 deaths, making it the largest mass death event in the state’s history since records have been kept.
Crittenden County has had 118 reported deaths, and currently has more than 300 active cases. Greene County has had 109 deaths and 407 active cases. Mississippi County has had 126 reported deaths with 296 active cases.
Pockets of the Ozark foothills have been hit particularly hard in terms of per capita deaths from the virus. White County has had 179 deaths and has 297 active cases. Independence County has 152 reported deaths with 261 active cases.
To thwart the spread of the virus, St. Bernards Healthcare on Sept. 24 began offering free COVID-19 booster shots to individuals meeting select criteria.
St. Bernards’ announcement comes on the heels of a CDC recommendation and consultations with the Arkansas Department of Health for booster vaccinations to persons who received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination series at least six months ago. The recommendation includes populations aged 65 and older, residents in long-term care settings and persons aged 50 to 64 with underlying medical conditions. In addition, the CDC included an option for boosters to individuals aged 18 to 49 with underlying medical conditions as well as those aged 18 to 64 who have an increased risk of virus exposure and transmission because of work or institutional settings.
With current COVID transmissions attributed largely to the Delta variant, St. Bernards Vice President of Ancillary Services LeAnn Morrow said the booster is vital.
“COVID vaccines have helped keep our hospitalization numbers from going even higher,” Morrow said. “We only have to look at those numbers plummeting in the spring after vaccination numbers grew.”
Moving into the summer, however, low vaccination rates globally and within certain regions of the U.S. allowed the virus to mutate, most notably with the Delta variant.
“Delta has changed how we approach COVID, and we want to protect our most at-risk populations from its impacts.” Morrow said. “We believe a booster dose will go far in protecting these individuals who received their last COVID immunization anywhere from six to nine months ago.”
Dr. Kasey Holder, St. Bernards Medical Center Vice President of Medical Affairs, added that the need for a booster vaccination differs from individuals receiving an mRNA vaccine third dose. She said St. Bernards has provided third doses to the community for more than a month.
“Third doses of the mRNA vaccines went to select immunocompromised persons who likely had an insufficient immune response from the previous two doses,” Holder said. “Booster shots, on the other hand, are given to individuals who did have an adequate immune response from the first two doses, but their immunity has waned over time. Our goal is to ensure people receiving third doses and booster doses have an appropriate level of protection from COVID.”