Atlanta healthcare officials gathered outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Aug. 19 to urge people to get vaccinated.

Officials from metro Atlanta area hospitals gathered this morning to make an urgent appeal for Georgians to get vaccinated as COVID-19 cases surge and hospitals fill up.

Doctors, nurses, and administrators from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Emory Healthcare, Grady Health System, Northeast Georgia Health System, Piedmont Healthcare and Wellstar Health System gathered outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium to address the media.

With only about 40 percent of the state’s population fully vaccinated, the highly transmissible delta variant has swamped hospitals with new COVID-19 cases. The peak in cases caused by the variant isn’t expected to come until late September.

The medical professionals were blunt: ICUs and emergency rooms are being inundated with people who have not been vaccinated against the virus.

“Get vaccinated. This is real and it is having an incredible impact on our community,” said Grady Healthcare Chief of Staff Dr. Robert Jansen. “Do the right thing and help prevent the spread of this infection.”

Jansen said hospitals, including Grady, would need to start using “non-traditional” areas to treat patients, including converted waiting rooms as ICU beds fill up. Many hospitals in Atlanta have been diverting patients to other hospitals as ERs and ICUs have been overwhelmed with the sick.

Dr. Danny Branstetter, Medical Director of Infection Prevention with Wellstar Health System, said the time to get vaccinated is now. “It is safe for people to take and the risk is minimal.”

The medical professionals said the number of people who have  contracted COVID-19 after vaccination is low and they did not require intensive care.

“The vaccine works,” Dr. Jansen said. “It prevents you from getting it and also protects you from serious illness.”

Dr. Jim Fortenberry, Chief Medical Officer with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, said they are seeing younger patients getting infected and said active vaccine trials were happening now for children under age 12.

Sharon Pappas, Chief Nurse Executive with Emory Healthcare, said combating misinformation and misconceptions about the vaccine have been a regular part of her staff’s job.

She said many are fearful of the vaccine because it’s only been authorized for emergency use and not cleared by the Food and Drug Administration.

“We have heard so many people say they don’t want to take the vaccine because it’s ‘experimental.’ It’s not. It works.”

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.