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Texas doctor urges vaccines amid ‘dire shortage’ of health workers, ICU beds

Less than half the people in Texas are currently fully vaccinated. 96% of ICU beds are full, leaving just over 300 available across the state. The state’s health department has requested additional mortuary trailers from FEMA in anticipation of more lives lost. Dr. Joseph Chang, the chief medical officer for Parkland Health & Hospital System in Dallas, Texas joins William Brangham to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Delta variant continues its spread, now accounting for more than 98 percent of new infections in the U.S. States, particularly those with low vaccination rates, are scrambling to care for an influx of sick patients in their intensive care wards.

    As William Brangham reports, more Texas hospitals are reporting a shortage of ICU beds than at any point in the last 18 months.

  • William Brangham:

    That's right, Judy.

    Texas is experiencing its fourth COVID surge. Right now, less than half of the people in Texas are fully vaccinated; 96 percent of ICU beds are full, leaving just over 300 available across the entire state. The state's Health Department has had to recruit personnel from out of state to address staffing shortages and to request additional mortuary trailers from FEMA, in anticipation of more lives lost.

    Dr. Joseph Chang is chief medical officer for Parkland Health and Hospital System in Dallas, Texas.

    Dr. Chang, very good to have you on the "NewsHour." Thank you.

    I wonder if you could just give us a sense of what it is like in your hospital right now?

  • Dr. Joseph Chang:

    Well, I mean, the situation in the hospital right now is as serious as it has been in any part of this pandemic.

    I mean, the fatigue right now among our front-line caregivers, in terms of nurses, environmental techs, doctors, is something I really can't adequately describe in words.

  • William Brangham:

    And do you have enough staff? I know that the state has requested some sort of backup.

  • Dr. Joseph Chang:

    Right.

  • William Brangham:

    But are you OK staffing-wise right now?

  • Dr. Joseph Chang:

    No. We're in a dire shortage.

    In fact, we're about 450 full-time equivalence of nurses down from our optimal staffing levels. We have had to transfer patients away from the hospital. And where normally we are that city on the hill that accepts every else's patients, we have actually had to transfer patients away.

    It is a serious situation here. And if we don't get some help, in terms of less COVID patients coming in, it is really going to cause a big problem.

  • William Brangham:

    I understand that the vast majority of people in your ICUs are people who are unvaccinated?

  • Dr. Joseph Chang:

    Absolutely.

  • William Brangham:

    Have you gotten of sense from them of why they didn't get vaccinated?

  • Dr. Joseph Chang:

    Most of them have an extreme amount of regret.

    And what they will tell you is: I just didn't think it would be me.

    That's really, I think, the majority of the folks that are out there not vaccinated. They just didn't think it could happen to them, because, I will tell you, right now, in the hospital, there are more 40-year-olds in there right now than 70-year-olds.

    And that in really lies the problem is that, right now, still, the perception is that, hey, if I'm young and healthy, I can't get COVID. And so they aren't getting out and getting vaccinated.

    With school starting up, I'm really, really worried about what that means.

  • William Brangham:

    Do you find yourself and your staff find yourselves trying to persuade people that, look, when you're done, and you can get out of here, please get your vaccine?

  • Dr. Joseph Chang:

    A hundred percent.

    In fact, I do see it as my job and a vital part of my job to educate the public on what these vaccines mean and what they can do. They are our only way out of this pandemic. They are our finest and really only real weapon against COVID-19.

    I would remind everybody that's watching this program that, when you get sick with COVID, and you are in my hospital, I have exactly zero treatments for you that can kill this virus, zero. Nothing we have discovered in the last 18 months of dealing with COVID-19 can kill this virus. Only your immune system can.

    And so, when you get here, I'm going to support your immune system as best I can. But I cannot take this cross from your shoulders. Your body's going to have to fight it yourself.

    So, really, really what you have got to do is prevent yourself from getting it in the first place. And that, my friends, is the vaccine. Remember, there are vulnerable portions of our population that cannot get vaccinated. Or, if they do get vaccinated, it's not going to be as effective for them.

    It behooves all of us and it is our public duty to go out, have compassion for those individuals and do our part to keep them well by getting ourselves vaccinated.

  • William Brangham:

    There are some small hints that the vaccination rate is starting to tick up. Maybe people are just becoming terrified of the Delta variant.

    But, as you know well, half your state is still not there.

  • Dr. Joseph Chang:

    Absolutely. No.

  • William Brangham:

    Are you confident we're going to get our hands around this in time?

  • Dr. Joseph Chang:

    I'm not. To be honest, I'm not confident.

    I have said from the very beginning that this is going to be race. This is going to be a race between how fast we get people vaccinated and how fast COVID can mutate. And we have already seen one such variant, the Delta, show up that is getting ahold of all of our folks before we can get them vaccinated.

    Again, I will remind people the reason we have variants is because we have active infection. If we could stop active infection, i.e., with the vaccine, we would not be speaking about variants at all. There would be no threat to decreasing the effectiveness of our vaccines. So we must go out there and get people as vaccinated as we can.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Dr. Joseph Chang, chief medical officer of Parkland Health and Hospital System in Dallas, thank you very much.

    And best of luck to you.

  • Dr. Joseph Chang:

    Thanks a lot. Appreciate it.

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