Registered nurse Katie Downey cares for a COVID-19 patient in the Medical Intensive Care Unit at UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Aug. 11, 2021.

Registered nurse Katie Downey cares for a COVID-19 patient in the Medical Intensive Care Unit at UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Aug. 11, 2021.

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Doctors and hospital leaders have been saying for weeks that the surge of COVID-19 patients this summer has been largely among the unvaccinated.

Now they’re beginning to share the numbers in ways they hope will inspire more people to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Hospitals have begun publishing charts and graphics on their websites and on social media that convey what portion of their COVID-19 patients have been vaccinated — and what portion have not. The numbers show that the overwhelming majority of those hospitalized with COVID-19 have not been vaccinated, which is especially true for those needing intensive care.

“The rationale is to provide simple and visual information for the public that reflects reality,” said Alan Wolf, spokesman for UNC Health, the 12-hospital system based in Chapel Hill. “The evidence shows that you’re much less likely to end up in the hospital, much less likely to end up in the ICU and much less likely to die from this virus if you’ve been vaccinated.”

UNC posted a graphic on social media Thursday with the number of COVID patients at the UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill, UNC Rex in Raleigh and seven other hospitals across the state. It showed nearly 88% of the 401 COVID-19 patients and 96% of those patients who were in ICUs were unvaccinated.

UNC joins several other hospitals and hospital systems across North Carolina that are now creating illustrations to show the vaccination status of their COVID-19 patients, said Cynthia Charles of the N.C. Healthcare Association, a trade group that represents all 130 hospitals in the state.

Last week, Atrium Health, CaroMont Health and Novant Health released an illustration that combined data from all three health systems in the Charlotte area. Last Wednesday, it showed, 92% of their 933 COVID-19 patients and 97% of the 126 COVID-19 patients on life support had not been vaccinated.

In the Triangle, WakeMed was the first to post its patient data. A graphic on social media last week showed that on Thursday Wake County’s largest hospital had 121 COVID-19 patients and that 100 of them, or nearly 83%, were unvaccinated. Of the 44 in WakeMed’s ICU, all but 4 were unvaccinated.

The numbers are even more stark at some of UNC’s smaller rural hospitals that have begun to publish their data. UNC Southeastern in Lumberton, UNC Wayne in Goldsboro and UNC Nash in Rocky Mount reported a total of 124 COVID-19 patients in recent days, and all but three were unvaccinated.

More than 2 million NC adults not vaccinated

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in North Carolina has grown from fewer than 400 in early July to 3,815 on Thursday, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

The department does not publish data on what portion of those patients had been vaccinated. But it says surveillance data shows unvaccinated people are four times more likely to contract COVID-19 than those who have gotten the shots and 15 times more likely to die from the disease.

A majority, 62%, of North Carolina residents age 18 and older are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to DHHS. That still leaves more than 2 million adults who aren’t, and they’ve become the focus of public service announcements and media campaigns emphasizing the benefits of being vaccinated.

The hospital association recently posted video interviews with front-line hospital workers describing what they see in COVID wards and emergency departments. In one video, Tracie Neilson, a critical care nurse at Cone Health in Greensboro, says COVID-19 patients often ask for the vaccine after it’s too late.

“You’re trying to calm a patient and get them to breathe and get them to relax and they’re looking at you and your words are saying one thing but your eyes kind of give it away, that you’re worried for them,” Neilson says. “And you’re the last one holding their hand, trying to calm them — knowing that it’s not going to be a good outcome is not a pleasant thing. It’s devastating.”

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, hospitals during the coronavirus outbreak. He’s been a reporter or editor for 33 years, including the last 21 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, [email protected]