If North Texas starts running out of ICU beds, doctors may have to consider coronavirus vaccination status as a factor in who gets priority care—a situation health officials hope to avoid but worry is becoming increasingly likely—with the vaccinated potentially being prioritized for treatment on the assumption that they’re more likely to survive.
Members of the North Texas Mass Critical Care Guideline Task Force held a meeting last week about the worsening Covid crisis in the area, and discussed the possibility that doctors might need to use Covid vaccination status to prioritize care in extreme scenarios.
A spokesman for the task force told Forbes that doctors at the meeting noted unvaccinated Covid patients were suffering worse outcomes, leading to an internal memo being sent to members of the task force—which provides guidance for physicians in the Dallas area—telling doctors they could take vaccination status into account when deciding who to care for, if needed.
Dr. Mark Casanova, the task force’s spokesman, told Forbes that other factors—like pre-existing conditions—would be taken into effect in situations where patients have to be prioritized for care, and unvaccinated status will not be used as an “exclusion criteria.”
But if all things are equal between two patients suffering from Covid-19, the one who is vaccinated would be seen as more likely to survive, Casanova said, meaning they would receive care first.
“Our situation is bad, and if numbers continue in the direction they’re going there is a realistic potential that triage guidelines will need to be utilized,” Casanova said in an interview.
New Covid cases and hospitalizations are skyrocketing in Texas with no signs of a slowdown. As of Wednesday, there were 12,402 patients hospitalized with Covid-19 in Texas—a number that is quickly approaching the pandemic high of just over 14,000 back in January. Texas is one of several Southern states where the delta variant has caused Covid cases to spike uncontrollably, leading to devastating impacts on health care systems. In Mississippi, health officials opted to open a field hospital in a parking garage to take the strain off regular medical facilities, while Alabama now has more patients in need of intensive care than the number of designated ICU beds in the state can take. And on Wednesday afternoon, officials in Mobile, Alabama—which has a population of almost 200,000—decided ambulances could no longer transport people to the hospital since emergency rooms were overwhelmed with Covid patients. It does not appear vaccination status is being used as a triage factor in these areas, though.
Using survival chances to prioritize who received care was a distressing step taken by Italian doctors in the early days of the pandemic, when health care systems were overwhelmed there by the number of patients needing treatment.