UPMC sees ‘wave’ of COVID-19 of hospitalizations

The region is in the midst of another “wave” of COVID-19 hospitalizations, and one of the telling features has been that none of those at UPMC hospitals have been vaccinated, according to Dr. David Burwell, chief quality officer for UPMCs Altoona, Bedford, Somerset and Western Maryland.

Given that nearly all the area’s residents desperate for shots have gotten or scheduled them, UPMC has begun reaching out to the rest of the populace to make getting shots easier, while connecting with people who’ve been misinformed about alleged hazards, Burwell said in a phone interview Friday.

“The vaccines are safe and effective, and they’re really necessary to end the pandemic,” but participation levels should be higher, Burwell said. “It’s a race for vaccination,” he said.

As of Friday afternoon, there were 59 COVID-19 patients in the UPMC hospitals under his care, including 12 in intensive care — with patients skewing younger, a consequence of the initial emphasis on vaccinating older people, Burwell said. The share of patients in intensive care and on ventilators is smaller than earlier in the pandemic, but patients still need oxygen and other supports, and there are patients now in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s, he said.

To reach people who haven’t been vaccinated, UPMC has “pivoted” to make it more convenient for those “not sure what’s in it for them,” those busy working and raising families and to those who are willing, but not accustomed to visiting a hospital environment, Burwell said.

The organization is also trying to “engage” with those who are skeptical about vaccine safety, he said.

Scheduling a shot at the vaccine clinic at Station Medical Center through vaccine.upmc.com is easier now, because slots are available, with no need to get on a waiting list, according to hospital spokeswoman Danielle Sampsell.

“You can instantly click on an open appointment,” she wrote in an email.

The organization will be working with businesses to offer vaccinations to people where they work, and it’s planning to provide shots at home to the homebound, Burwell said.

“We want to work with people where they are,” he said.

The organization also intends to open a dialog with people who have been misled by social media and other sources to believe “myths,” such as that the vaccines can affect female fertility and that they’re a vehicle for “implanting a chip,” Burwell said.

“Let’s engage, talk about it, work through it,” the doctor said. There will be no contemptuous attitude of dismissal, he added.

“Vaccines save lives,” he said. “We’re trying to save lives.”

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.


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