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Oregon doctors make emotional plea to the unvaccinated: ‘We cannot keep fighting this fight without your help’

Signs delineating the “hot zone” are posted in a hospital's critical care unit in Grants Pass, Ore. Dozens of Oregon health-care workers penned a letter urging people in the community to get inoculated as coronavirus cases spike. (Mike Zacchino/Pool/KDRV/AP)

Correction: A previous version of this article included an incorrect date range provided by a group of doctors on their hospitals’ covid-19 diagnoses. The 1,037 diagnoses at PeaceHealth Oregon hospitals occurred between April 1-Aug. 18. The article has been corrected.

Charlotte Ransom has spent more than a year and a half on the front lines of the pandemic — and the past several months urging her emergency room patients to get a coronavirus vaccination. No matter how hard the Eugene, Ore., doctor has tried, she said some patients are still refusing the shot — even as some intensive care units in the state run out of beds.

“I’m exhausted,” Ransom, 44, told The Washington Post. “The fight is just too much for me right now. Going to work is a difficult process these days.”

Now, she and dozens of other doctors and physician assistants are setting their sights on those who have delayed getting a shot or still have hesitations about the coronavirus vaccines. The medical workers are on a mission to reach them before it’s too late — before they end up in an ICU bed.

Last week, Ransom and 49 other health-care workers at three local hospitals signed a letter imploring unvaccinated members of their community, about 100 miles south of Portland, to reconsider their choice and schedule their shots.

“You may be very healthy and have a strong immune system,” they wrote in the four-page letter. “You may feel you will be safe. We have cared for and admitted many patients who have had this very thought.”

The letter added: “This is not only about you and your healthy immune system. It is about the greater good of the community. We cannot keep fighting this fight without your help.”

A spokesperson with PeaceHealth System Services, the network that employs the group that signed the letter, told The Post the letter is not connected with the chain of hospitals.

The health-care workers’ letter is the latest plea directed at some of the tens of millions of Americans who have not yet received at least one dose of the three authorized coronavirus vaccines, which are available free to anyone 12 and older. In Alabama, doctors are having one-on-one sessions with their unvaccinated patients in an effort to get shots in arms. Still, some patients there are refusing the vaccines until they need to be intubated, when it’s too late.

Pleas in Alabama: ‘I’m begging you. ... Take that shot.’

When the vaccines became available to all Oregon residents earlier this year, Ransom said the hospitals where she works saw a brief reprieve in coronavirus cases. That gave her time to explain to emergency room patients that getting inoculated was their best chance of evading the virus or avoiding the hospital if infected.

Then the delta variant brought a surge of mostly unvaccinated patients to the western Oregon hospital chain this summer. By then, Ransom said she did not have time to persuade most of them to consider inoculation. The next sick patient awaited her.

Robbin Young, the director of nursing services at the hospital, received the vaccine after it was available. Some among her staff were more hesitant. (Video: The Washington Post)

Oregon, like much of the country, has seen a spike in coronavirus cases as the highly transmissible delta variant spreads. Hospitalizations are up more than 20 percent there in the past week, according to The Post’s covid tracker, and deaths have risen more than 57 percent in that time. A man in Douglas County, Ore., outside Eugene, died at a crowded hospital last week while waiting for an ICU bed.

PeaceHealth Oregon hospitals have diagnosed 1,037 patients with covid-19 between April 1-Aug. 18. Of those, more than 96 percent were not fully vaccinated, the letter said.

“They are so sick with covid-19 that you know they are not vaccinated,” Ransom said of her patients, matching most medical experts’ warnings that the unvaccinated are more likely to suffer severe symptoms. “Most people tell me [vaccination is] a personal decision or that they are not going to do it and they never will. They just say, ‘It’s my choice and you are not going to make me do it.’ ”

Ransom’s colleague Sarah Coleman, who also signed the letter, said she gets similar reactions when asking some patients about their vaccination status, KLCC reported.

“I was having a shift where it was pretty disheartening,” Coleman told the station. “I was seeing a lot of patients with covid and when I asked them if they were vaccinated, they immediately shut me down.”

About 57 percent of people in Oregon are fully vaccinated, The Post’s data shows. Ransom said there is little she can do for patients refusing a vaccination, so when a colleague sent out an email asking staff members if they would be interested in drafting a letter asking unvaccinated residents to get the shot, the physician quickly agreed.

“Unfortunately, we are admitting younger and healthier people with complications from Covid-19,” the letter stated. “It is NOT a bad cold. It is NOT a bad flu. It hurts. It keeps people awake at night because of pain. It causes fluid to build up in the lungs making breathing difficult. It is AWFUL even in those not sick enough to require hospitalization.”

While some patients have mild cases, the health-care workers are challenging community members to consider whether they want to pass the risk to their parents or children.

“We urge you to consider your circle of friends and family,” they wrote, adding that they are seeing a rise in pediatric cases. They note elderly patients with chronic conditions can end up suffering “devastating illness and death.”

Without boosting vaccination rates, the virus is impossible to beat, they added.

Ransom is unsure whether the letter has prompted anyone to schedule a vaccine appointment, although she said she hopes it will after seeing how the virus has wreaked havoc on her patients.

She is frustrated, burned out and tired of watching unvaccinated patients die — and Ransom said this is her final plea. If the community chooses not to listen, she said, the hospital runs the risk of running out beds.

“Every community has a breaking point,” she added, “and I hope we don’t reach that point.”