I saw a report out of Ohio this morning that the Cleveland Clinic is "nearing hospital bed capacity" because of unvaccinated Covid-19 patients. There are countless stories like these from hospitals across the country.
It's against this backdrop that Bloomberg News published a report out of Kentucky this week that touched on a familiar but critically important point.
Immunization is often framed as an individual choice — particularly in Kentucky's less-vaccinated regions. But a Bloomberg analysis of vaccine, infection and hospitalization data for the state, combined with interviews of more than 20 doctors, nurses and medical staff, show how low vaccination rates strain entire communities and health-care systems. As a new winter wave of cases hits, those same dynamics are pushing hospitals around the U.S. to the brink.
The article added, "Those states will not be the only ones. A worrying new variant is spreading, hospitals are filling, and millions remain unvaccinated. If America keeps stress-testing its hospitals and their staff, some of them will break."
I will gladly concede that this is not an original point. The opposite is true: We've seen similar reports for months, each of which have tried to drive home the point that when Americans choose to go unvaccinated, their choice affects others.
But let's reemphasize the facts anyway.
One of the most common assertions from those who refuse to get vaccinated and/or refuse to wear mask protections is that they're making a personal choice. It is, the argument goes, a private matter, to be left to individuals and their consciences. They say that if they want to take risks, that's up to them — and they're prepared to accept the consequences as private citizens, come what may.
And if those who contract the virus were somehow hidden away, alone in their bedrooms, this might even be somewhat persuasive.
But reality tells a very different story. At issue is a dangerous contagion. There is a safe and effective vaccine that's readily available for free. Those who believe they're taking a personal risk by rejecting that vaccine are actually creating a societal hazard — one that, among other things, fills hospitals and delays medical care for everyone in the community, whether they've contracted the virus or not.
When areas run out of intensive-care-unit beds, which has happened this year and will likely continue to happen, it obviously affects Covid-19 patients in extreme distress. But it also affects those who have heart attacks. And strokes. And who get into car accidents.
People weighing whether to do the right thing need to understand that their personal choice isn't just a personal choice.