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Arizona health officials: Unvaccinated 15+ times more likely to die of COVID

A new report from state health officials found that unvaccinated Arizonans were nearly four times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 in October and were more than 15 times more likely to die from the illness than vaccinated people.

"Every week and across all age groups, people who were unvaccinated had a greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19 and a greater risk of dying from COVID-19 than people who were fully vaccinated," the Arizona Department of Health Services wrote Tuesday in its analysis of COVID-19 cases by vaccination status.

Only about 55% of Arizonans have received at least two doses of the free vaccines, which have been available to everyone over the age of 18 since the spring. Children between 12 and 17 years old became eligible in May, and vaccines for children between 5 and 11 were approved in November.

And hospitals across the state are struggling to keep up with the surge in cases among the unvaccinated that began last month and has now left fewer open intensive care unit beds than at any time since the pandemic began in March 2020.

The latest figures from ADHS show that, for five days in a row, there have been fewer than 100 vacant ICU beds across the Grand Canyon State, correlating with a steady rise in ICU admissions for COVID-19 patients.

On Oct. 25, there were 1,607 ICU beds in use, of which 24% — or 433 — were filled by COVID-19 cases, and 165 beds were open. On Tuesday, there were only 96 ICU beds available statewide, and COVID-19 patients now filled 40% of the 1,672 occupied beds.

It's not just beds that are in short supply. Stephanie Innes, who covers health care for the Arizona Republic, reported that the state's five largest hospital systems have patients hooked up to all of their available extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO machines, which function as a mechanical lung outside the body to take stress off the patient's lungs and heart. The machines are the highest level of life-support, and are only used on the sickest COVID-19 patients.

Arizona is averaging about 35,000 doses administered a day, and ranks 29th nationally in the percentage of its population that has received at least two doses of the vaccine.

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Although he said earlier this year that Arizona would "vaccinate our way out of" the pandemic, Gov. Doug Ducey has been a staunch opponent of requirements that people be vaccinated. He has been sharply critical of President Joe Biden's plan to require most private-sector employees to be vaccinated, and he signed numerous laws this year aimed at barring vaccine mandates and public health measures intended to limit the spread of COVID-19.

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