Hoping to combat misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine, Hartford HealthCare relaunched its hotline Monday and encouraged residents to base their medical decisions on scientific evidence rather than social media posts.
“Unfortunately, disinformation seems to be one of the things we are battling and we are facing,” Dr. Ulysses Wu, chief epidemiologist and system director at Hartford HealthCare, told reporters during a remote news conference.
In an effort to provide credible information, the health care system reactivated its coronavirus hotline, available by dialing 860-972-8100. The group ran the educational helpline from March 7, 2020, to May 21, 2021, and fielded questions about the virus and safety precautions. Its purpose now will be mostly aimed at answering questions about the vaccines and dispelling anxiety stemming from misinformation.
During the news conference, the medical professionals said the spike in COVID cases driven by the more-infectious delta variant had also fueled an increase in previously-hesitant patients choosing to take the shot.
But they said more needed to be done as COVID hospitalizations continue to increase in Connecticut. Over the weekend, another 34 patients were hospitalized with the virus, bringing the state total to 208. The vast majority of hospitalized patients are people who have avoided the vaccines, they said.
“The percentage remains 95 to 99% of the individuals needing critical care and needing ventilation are individuals who have not been vaccinated,” Keith Grant, APRN and senior director of infection prevention, said.
That’s not to say Connecticut has not seen breakthrough cases in vaccinated residents. As of last week, there had been 1,171 such cases with 162 hospitalizations and 27 deaths. But those cases are statistically rare, and make up less than 1% of the more than 2 million residents who have been vaccinated.
As cases have surged, many unvaccinated patients have required hospital beds while patients discovered to be breakthrough cases have sometimes come in for an unrelated illness and presented with the sniffles or symptoms of allergies, Wu said.
“The truth and the reality is, this remains a pandemic of the unvaccinated at this point and we are seeing some spill over into the vaccinated population,” Wu said. “But with regards to critical illness, it remains an unvaccinated issue.”
Dr. Ayjay Kumar, chief clinical officer at Hartford HealthCare, said he hoped the hotline would help put more patients in the vaccinated column by dispelling misinformation. He said that the vaccine had been administered to billions of patients around the world and withstood the scrutiny of “politicians, and society, and scientists and every single community member.”
“I can tell you where the credible sources of information are: the clinical leaders, the physicians, [the Centers for Disease Control],” Kumar said. “There are other sources such as Facebook and a few other areas where individuals are presenting their opinions rather than scientific fact. I would consider them not-so-credible.”
As of Monday, Connecticut’s COVID infection rate continued to be elevated. The state identified another 1,287 cases over the weekend putting the infection rate at 3.33%. Just one month ago, it was less than 1%. Meanwhile, every county in the state had at least “substantial” transmission levels, according to the CDC, which identified New Haven and Hartford Counties as “high” transmission areas.
The doctors encouraged Connecticut residents to use precautions like masking and social distancing when indoors or among crowds.
“Don’t put yourself in a risky situation,” Wu said. “Social behavior drives much of these infections.”