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Bridge Michigan
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Opinion | Unvaxxed should be at back of line at crowded Michigan hospitals

Dale Weeks was a 78-year-old, fully-vaccinated, retired school superintendent from Seymour, Iowa, who developed a potentially-lethal case of sepsis. The only hospital in the state that had room for him was a small rural one without adequate facilities to treat his case, and he had to wait 15 days to be moved to a larger hospital with better treatment options. By the time he was able to be operated on, his sepsis had worsened, and he died soon thereafter. His delay in finding adequate treatment had an obvious cause — too many hospital beds were being occupied by a surge of unvaccinated patients who had contracted Covid-19. There have undoubtedly been similar, less-publicized cases in Michigan and elsewhere.

Peter Eckstein
Peter Eckstein has a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard. He is the retired research director of the Michigan AFL-CIO.

I don’t want to be the next Dale Weeks. I am fully vaccinated, and I have no medical conditions (beyond senior citizen status) that suggest an imminent need for hospitalization. Still, anything can happen that might take me to the emergency room — a serious fall, a car accident, a stroke, a heart attack — you name it. I don’t want to arrive and be told that there is no room for me and won’t be for hours, days, or even weeks — and I don’t want that to happen to you.

There is, however, an urgent crisis in hospital care Michigan – one of only a half-dozen states singled out for emergency assistance from military medical teams. There has been a massive influx of unvaccinated COVID patients seeking hospital treatment. That “juggernaut” is crashing against shortages of beds and equipment – and  the depletion of medical personnel due to illness and exhaustion. That record influx represents a tangible threat to my health and life — and to those of millions of other responsible Michiganians.

There is a clear way to reduce this horrible pressure, uncharitable though it may seem. Hospitals should end the practice of making no distinction between prospective patients who are fully vaccinated and those who are not. Every medical facility facing a capacity limitation should establish two, separate priority lists of potential patients. One would be for those who are either vaccinated or ineligible for vaccination. The other would be for those who, despite massive scientific evidence and impassioned entreaties from the medical community, have failed to be vaccinated.

All hospitals traditionally use “triage” lists to prioritize those most needing treatment over those less desperately ill (or unlikely to benefit from treatment). Developing two such lists would not require physicians to violate their oath to “First Do No Harm.” Every act of prioritization risks doing harm to those ranked too low to receive immediate treatment. The system in Iowa did infinite harm to Dale Weeks, and maintaining the present system would do harm to me or to you if we are denied urgent treatment for a dangerous condition because of a glut of unvaccinated COVID patients.

A two-list policy would have two major benefits. The most immediate would be to assure greater availability of life-saving treatment for those sick and injured persons who have acted responsibly to protect their own health and that of others. The longer-run benefit would be to awaken vaccine resistors to the fact that they cannot simply count on a beleaguered medical system to rescue them from the consequences of their own folly.

If this suggestion seems cruel or unfair, ask yourself this question: Should hospitals allow those who have irresponsibly endangered their own lives — and those of their family members, neighbors, and co-workers — to crowd out necessary care for those who have acted responsibly?

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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