To describe Dr. Ryan Dare as frustrated would be a gross understatement.
Dare and his colleagues at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock are dealing with an increase in extremely ill Covid-19 patients – one that is “almost 100 percent preventable.”
This is because virtually all of their patients are unvaccinated. And now they wish they had got the shots when they had the chance.
Full coverage of coronavirus outbreak
“It’s heartbreaking to see unvaccinated people enter the hospital with regret,”
Arkansas has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with less than 35 percent of adults being fully vaccinated. Now, the state’s low vaccine intake has plunged into the highly contagious delta variant of coronavirus, leaving some hospital systems on the brink of collapse more than a year into the pandemic.
It is not the only state where progress against the virus has taken a turn.
“We’re starting to see some new ups and downs,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at a briefing Thursday. “In short, in areas with low vaccination coverage, cases and hospitalizations are open.”
Many of these areas are grouped in Arkansas and nearby Missouri along with a handful of states in Mountain West.
Less than 40 percent of adults are fully vaccinated in Missouri. At Mercy Hospital Springfield, an influx of more than 125 patients has forced administrators to ask other medical systems for additional ventilators and nurses to handle the additional cases.
“It’s just a mess,” said Dr. Mayrol Juarez, a critical care physician at the hospital. “Everyone at the hospital is doing extra shifts and calling on other hospitals to help.”
Juarez said many of his hospitalized Covid-19 patients are “shocked” that Covid-19 really does exist and that it can make people very sick and even kill them. “One comment that they come up with all the time is that they wish they knew they were going to end up in the hospital, this patient, and they would have made another choice and gotten the vaccine,” he said.
Eric Frederick, chief executive of Mercy Hospital Springfield, has also encountered patients who are extremely dismissive of or who flat-out deny the existence of Covid-19.
“This is not the boogeyman. This is not something we have done to make people rise,” he said. “There are 120 real people in the hospital right now struggling with this disease … And everyone will tell you – this is not fake.”
Doctors say the average age of patients has dropped since the start of the pandemic. People can still get extremely ill – at Mercy Springfield, 29 of the Covid-19 patients are in the intensive care unit and 27 are placed in ventilators.
The younger age reflects the relatively high vaccination rates among older adults that were prioritized early – even in states with low vaccine intake.
“It really feels like this pandemic is becoming an endemic problem for those who are unvaccinated,” said Dr. Andy Dunn, a family physician and chief of staff at Wyoming Medical Center in Casper.
Download the NBC News app for full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak
Dunn said he is “over frustrated” at the low vaccination rate in the state, which is about 35 percent. “Whether it’s a cowboy or whatever, the mentality in so much of Wyoming is just ‘we do not.’ It’s really awful and heartbreaking. “
The federal government has deployed surveillance teams to areas of the country with outbreaks, including parts of Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri and Nevada, said Jeff Zients, White House response coordinator Covid-19.
“These efforts include providing expert support to the CDC in outbreak investigations, working with local health officials, getting more treatments for people with Covid, and helping states increase vaccine confidence,” Zients said at Thursday’s briefing.
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said at a news conference last month that since the beginning of the year, at least 98 percent of inpatient Covid-19 patients have been unvaccinated and that more than 99 percent of deaths were among unvaccinated people.
Vaccines are available in the United States for anyone aged 12 and over, and studies have shown that they are effective against the delta variant.
“The decision to get a vaccination should not be tough,” said Dare of the University of Arkansas. “Patients know it now, but they know it too late.”
Follow NBC HEALTH on Twitter & Facebook.
Shaquille Brewster the contribution.