COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – El Paso County’s relatively low vaccination rate is starting to show up in hospitals as the count of COVID-19 patients in the county is beginning to increase in recent weeks.
“We’ve seen that curve rise pretty dramatically,” said Dr. David Steinbruner, the Chief Medical Officer at UCHealth Memorial Central.
86 COVID-19 patients were reported at the area’s hospitals on August 5, the latest available data. That’s a fraction of the height of the pandemic where, on December 1, 2020, 292 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 but, the regional hospital count has been increasing since it bottomed out at 49 on July 9.
Despite housing 12.3 percent of the state’s population, over 21 percent of hospital patients are in El Paso County. In the UCHealth system, the proportion is even larger with 63 hospitalized patients in El Paso County, 43 percent of the total 146 patients across the hospital system’s Colorado Hospitals.
“We’ve gotten very good at how to treat these patients but, there’s a certain element of this that’s beyond medicine’s capability,” Steinbruner said, “Some people are going to get very sick, despite all of that, and they’re going to die as a result.”
It comes as El Paso County slips from 25th to 26th out of the state’s 54 counties for vaccination rates. Among the populated Front Range Counties, El Paso County has the lowest vaccination rate at 63 percent, and one of the highest rates of hospitalization.
“If you look at the differences between those counties, the real difference is the rate of vaccination,” Steinbruner said.
With the increase facing hospitals, Steibruner says, “if you look at the trajectory, the only way through is to get people vaccinated in our opinion.”
The role of vaccinations is showing in the demographics of patients. 80 percent of people over 60 have been vaccinated in El Paso County and UCHealth is seeing far fewer of those patients in the hospital.
“For the most part, people who are coming in are younger so, we’re getting the demographics now in the 30 to 40 range and we’re seeing people get very sick in that range,” Steinbruner said.
Vaccination is also playing a large role in patient outcomes. Vaccinated patients are not getting nearly as sick as unvaccinated people and vaccinated patients are also doing better than people who previously had COVID and got COVID again, suggesting that the vaccine provides better protection than the body’s response to being previously infected.
“We’ve seen this from the people getting COVID, then getting COVID again, then other people who are vaccinated not having the effects, or not getting COVID as a result,” Steinbruner explained.