For months, local politicians, and city and county leaders have begged for Coastal Bend residents to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Now, the doctors are stepping in.
Local health leaders gathered this afternoon to issue a desperate plea: Get vaccinated.
“For right now, at Driscoll Children's Hospital we have 10, 11, 12 children at any point in time -- they're hospitalized, struggling to breathe,” said Driscoll Children’s Hospital COO and Executive Vice President Dr. Mary Dale Peterson.
Frustration is mounting as Nueces County Medical Society doctors said the vast majority of the COVID-19 victims they’re seeing are unvaccinated.
“This is a tragedy,” Peterson said. “It's a preventable tragedy.”
Just Monday, there were six more deaths in Nueces county: four men and two women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. Those deaths raise the local death toll to 1,014.
Another 197 novel coronavirus cases also were reported in the county Monday, pushing that total to nearly 59,000.
Of those patients, 406 are in Nueces county hospitals, battling the virus, and a 110 of them are in the intensive care unit.
"I have never had anybody that got the vaccine tell me that they regret getting the vaccine,” said Amistad Community Health Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jacqueline Phillips. “I've only heard regret for not getting it."If you end up in the emergency room because of COVID-19, you're going to trust the doctors and team around you to treat you and do whatever possible to save you.
"You'll trust them when you come to the hospital, to save your life, but you won't trust them on the front end of (when they) say ‘This is how I can save you,” said Corpus Christi Medical Center CEO Eric L. Evans.
As of right now there are zero ICU beds available in the Coastal Bend.
So tonight, a group of medical professionals are talking straight, saying get vaccinated, because otherwise, you'll end up seeing them, and that's not where you or your family want to be.
"Unfortunately, the patients who get to me are really to the point that the oxygen levels are so low that they cannot hold their breath,” said CCMC medical director and ER Dr. Juan Ramirez. “Many, many, many of those I have to intubate them and put them on life support on arrival."
The group said you're going to be exposed to the virus at some point but getting vaccinated is the difference between doing battle with the virus with armor, or without.
"So realize you are going to be exposed to it and catch it eventually,” said Physicians PremiER Dr. Lonnie R. Schwirtlich. “And when you get it, how do you want to get it? Do you want to get the full-blown syndrome with a full virus, and you have all these different pathological effects, or do you want a small segment of this virus to hit you that will give you enough to give you an immune response to knock it down so that, when you do get it -- because you're going to get it -- it's as little as possible?"
It’s also important to them that people understand that you don’t have to go out to get COVID-19 – in a lot of cases, said Phillips, it comes to the person.
"Most people tell me ‘We didn't want to get the vaccine, but we're very careful,’ ” she said. “We always wear our masks we always wash our hands. We don't go to the store. We don't go to the restaurants. We stay at home.’ All those people who have gotten COVID-19 got it from a family member that went out of the home and brought it into the household."
Unlike previous strains of COVID-19, which mostly left children unaffected, the Delta variant doesn’t see age. "I have two teenagers, a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old, who are on the last-ditch efforts to save their lives,” Peterson said. “They were on ventilators -- that was not successful. They're now on basically a heart/lung machine to provide oxygen to their bodies.""We have the young people in the hospital right now, struggling for air,” said Corpus Christi-Nueces County Local Health Authority Dr. Srikanth Ramachandruni. “These are highly muscular, fit guys with (a) high immune system. The virus acts in the first few days. Then, your immune system attacks your body, so nothing protects you other than the vaccine at this point."
The panel -- comprised of emergency-room specialists, clinic doctors, an infectious-disease specialist, a nephrologist, a pediatric specialist and a hospital administrator -- have all seen how the virus attacks patients from their specific point of view.
"I’m the last person you want to see in this string of events,” said the Nueces County Medical Society President and kidney specialist Dr. Jack Cortese. “Because that's when multi-system organ failure kicks in. And it's not just ‘I can't breathe,’ you know. Now it's ‘my kidneys are working, now my liver is inflamed.’ And just a simple vaccination can stop that way back here -- electively -- at the clinic. We just pray that we have enough beds and nurses available to handle those that are too late."
If you still need to get the COVID-19 vaccine, you have several options.
Digital content producer Ana Tamez contributed to this story.