The University of Kansas Health System reports a drop in the number of active COVID patients over the weekend. 40 patients with the active virus are being treated, down from 46 on Friday. Only seven of those 40 are vaccinated and they all have significant comorbidities or are immunocompromised.13 patients are in the ICU, down from 18 Friday. Eight are on ventilators, down from nine Friday. 42 other patients are still hospitalized because of COVID but are out of the acute infection phase, down from 46 on Friday. That’s a total of 82 patients, down from 92 on Friday. HaysMed has 13 patients, the same as Friday. Doctors noted the health system was really full over the weekend but couldn’t take any transfer patients, otherwise the numbers would have been higher. But they feel this is a good sign as numbers around the Metro are down.
On today’s Morning Medical Update, Vice Chancellor and Director of The University of Kansas Cancer Center, Dr. Roy Jensen, answered questions about vaccines and a third shot for cancer patients, and we buried a time capsule to mark a milestone.
Doctors began the discussion with news that a 34-year-old football coach from Olathe East died over the weekend from COVID. He was not vaccinated and had been on the fence about getting it. His parents are now urging everyone, no matter what age or how healthy they think they are, to get the vaccine as soon as possible so nobody has to needlessly go through what they are experiencing now. Doctors pointed out that 98.2 percent of all the current COVID deaths are among the unvaccinated.
Dr. Jensen said research done by the Cancer Center’s own Dr. Ronald Chen showed what he calls “a tremendous loss of screenings” in the last 18 months of COVID. What’s worse, he says, is many of those who chose not to get screened have not gotten back into the system. A recent study in JAMA shows colon cancer patients who waited had higher levels of disease. He urges everyone not to put those screenings off any longer. He reminded us that not all cancer patients are the same, especially those with blood cancers, who must work with their doctors to make sure the timing is right for the COVID vaccine, especially for a booster. He says cancer is many different diseases and each patient has a unique set of mutations that defines their own particular disease, which he says, “makes it a really tough foe to go against.” But he noted it’s the 50th anniversary of the National Cancer Act, signed by President Nixon, and the impact since then has been huge. In 1971 the five year survival rate from cancer was 49 percent and now it’s just under 70 percent. He says that progress has largely come through steady incremental advances against the disease.
One of the big advances is the new Proton Therapy Center at The University of Kansas Cancer Center. When the first patients begin treatment early next year, it will allow them to receive the most advanced form of radiation therapy in a much more focused and precise manner minimizing radiation to surrounding healthy tissue. It’s a treatment those in the area have had to go hundreds of miles to get. Dr. Ronnie Rotondo, medical director of the Proton Therapy Center, calls it a “major game changer,” especially for kids, who are usually more sensitive to radiation. He and Darren Kistler, senior director of radiation oncology, prepared a time capsule for burial during the program. They both described the items going inside, from personal notes on the vision for the center, to letters from staff, a time lapse of the construction project, periodicals, and even a couple of Chiefs Super Bowl pennants. The capsule will be opened in 30 years, and both hope some of the thousands of patients who will have benefited over that time will take part.
Dana Hawkinson, MD, medical director of Infection Prevention and Control at The University of Kansas Health System, addressed some misinformation that just won’t go away, that some people believe the vaccine causes infertility. He says it began with one post on social media, which has not been backed by science or any informed opinions. He says all of the OBGYN medical societies strongly recommend those pregnant and breastfeeding get the vaccine. He says all of the current vaccines offer extremely good protection from severe illness, hospitalization and death against the different COVID variants, including Delta. He says by not getting vaccinated, thinking you’re young and healthy and don’t need it, “You’re rolling the dice and taking a risk.” He points to the young football coach as the perfect example. “This is an absolute tragedy, 100 percent preventable tragedy.”
Steve Stites, MD, chief medical officer at The University of Kansas Health System, says, “Thinking about getting vaccinated does not offer protection against COVID. It’s having to complete the two injections, or one if it’s the J&J vaccine.” He doesn’t want anyone to put their family and loved ones in the same position as the young coach. “34-year-olds don’t need to die from COVID. They just need to be vaccinated. How much sadness has to occur because of denial? How much grief do we have to endure because people don’t want to believe the truth? It’s hard. It’s hard.”
Tuesday, September 14 at 8:00 a.m. is the next Morning Medical Update. We’ll hear from an ICU pharmacist and a respiratory therapist about the current COVID surge and how it compares to this time last year. This team is simply put, tired and worn out. They’ll discuss what it's like caring for COVID- positive patients now that we have a vaccine available.
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