As the number of Covid-19 cases surge across the country thanks in large part to the Delta variant, some hospital systems are feeling immense strain, particularly in states with low vaccination rates.

Alabama has one of the lowest rates of vaccination in the United States, as about 36% of its residents have been fully vaccinated. Though the vaccine does not prevent “breakthrough” cases, it drastically reduces the chances that one will require hospitalization or die due to the disease.

“There were 1,568 patients today who need ICU beds,” Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association told WSFA in Montgomery on Tuesday. “And there are only 1,557 designated ICU beds in the state today.”

Despite the bed shortage, the patients who need ICU care are getting it. However, non-ICU resources are being diverted to accommodate those in need. According to Williamson, just 12% of those hospitalized with Covid in Alabama have been fully vaccinated. He said that “this could have been prevented had we gotten vaccination numbers to higher levels.”

In July, Republican Gov. Kay Ivey expressed exasperation at the unwillingness of many of her state’s residents to get vaccinated.

“Let’s be crystal clear about this issue,” she said. “The new cases of Covid are because of unvaccinated folks. Almost 100% of the new hospitalizations are with unvaccinated folks. And the deaths are certainly occurring with the unvaccinated folks. These folks are choosing a horrible lifestyle of self-inflicted pain.”

Asked how the state could encourage more people to get vaccinated, the governor said, “I don’t know. You tell me.”

Williamson explained Alabama’s ICU bed shortage in jarring terms. “We’ve never been here before,” he said. “We are truly now in uncharted territory in terms of our ICU bed capacity.”

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