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Mich Med & Other MI Health Officials Sign Open Letter Stating 'Get Vaccinated Before It's Too Late'

Jeff Desmond
Michigan Medicine

Medical leaders from 21 hospital systems signed an open letter to Michigan residents pleading for people to get vaccinated. The letter comes after an increase of COVID-19 cases across the state, which leaders warn could turn into a fourth wave. 

WEMU's Lisa Barry talks with Dr. Jeff Desmond, chief medical officer for Michigan Medicine, who was among those who signed the letter and explains why he thinks it is so important.


As chief medical and nursing officers of major health systems in Michigan, it is with a sense of urgency, compassion and responsibility that we appeal to the citizens of our state. Michigan appears to be heading into a fourth COVID-19 surge with rising cases across our communities and hospitals. Unlike previous surges, we finally have free, widely available, highly effective and safe vaccines available to protect you and your family. Throughout this pandemic, no other medicine or intervention has been nearly as effective in preventing serious illness and death as the COVID-19 vaccines. More than 370 million doses have been administered in the United States with remarkable safety. In fact, the FDA issued full approval of the Pfizer vaccine Aug. 23, reaffirming its effectiveness and safety after reviewing tens of thousands of pages of safety and effectiveness information.
Our healthcare workers who have been on the front lines of this pandemic for 18 months are disheartened and frustrated to see so many unvaccinated individuals admitted to our hospitals and dying from serious complications of COVID-19 infection. Nationally, approximately 99% of individuals dying from COVID-19 are unvaccinated. This is a preventable tragedy. We are concerned about the health and safety of our vulnerable populations including the elderly, those with co-existing medical conditions, our children who are not yet vaccinated and the frontline healthcare workers. In fact, it is most alarming that pediatric hospitalizations are on the rise due to the complications of COVID-19 infection. As kids return to school, the most important thing parents can do is get them vaccinated as soon as they’re eligible and urge everyone in your family to mask up in public.
Although there is conflicting information on the strength, duration, and effectiveness of natural immunity from previously having COVID-19, there is robust evidence to show that the vaccine is safe and highly effective even if you have been previously infected and may provide additional immunity. Also, as unvaccinated individuals acquire COVID-19, they may not be aware of the danger of developing long lasting complications of COVID-19, the risks they place on health systems currently stretched to capacity, and the fact that more infections leads to more – and more dangerous – variants.
We are seeing our emergency rooms and hospital beds and intensive care units fill up again with this fourth surge of COVID-19, with more than 1,000 individuals now hospitalized with a preventable virus. This increased volume comes at a time that health systems are experiencing the worst healthcare worker shortages in history. Unfortunately, as the situation worsens, this hinders our ability to care for other patients who are experiencing serious illnesses such as stroke, heart attacks, diabetic complications, obstructive lung disease and trauma regardless of their vaccination status. Our frontline clinical colleagues find it exhausting and disheartening to see more and more patients unnecessarily ill, suffering and dying, despite their long hours at their bedsides and remarkable dedication.
Together, healthcare workers and our citizens have the ability – and a responsibility – to stop this global pandemic. We plead with those of you who remain unvaccinated to get vaccinated now. The vaccine is safe and effective. You trust us when you’re sick, when you have an emergency or when you have a chronic health need. Please trust us now when we guide you to get this vaccine.


Ascension Health Charles Husson, DO, Chief Medical Officer Tammie Steinard, RN, BS, BSN, MHA, ONC, Interim CNO


Battle Creek VA Medical Center Ketan Shah, MD, Chief of Staff Natasha Watson MSN, Assoc Director Patient Care Services, Nurse Executive


Beaumont Health Jeffrey Fischgrund, MD, Chief Clinical Care Programs Susan Grant, DNP, RN, FAAN, EVP & Chief Nursing Officer


Bronson Healthcare Scott Larson, MD, SVP, Chief Medical Officer Denise Neely, BSN, MBA, SVP, Chief Nursing Officer


Chippewa County War Memorial Hospital Paula Rechner, MD, Chief Medical Officer Marla Bunker, Chief Operating Officer & Chief Nursing Officer


Covenant HealthCare Michael Sullivan, MD, MBA, VP/Chief Medical Officer Patrice Lanczak, MSN, MHA, RN, VP/Chief Nursing Officer


Detroit Medical Center Rudolph P. Valentini, MD, Group Chief Medical Officer Sheri L. Underwood, MSN, BSN, Group Chief Nursing Officer


Henry Ford Health System Adnan R. Munkarah, MD, EVP, Chief Clinical Officer Barbara W. Rossmann, MS, RN, SVP, Chief Nursing Officer


John D. Dingell VA Medical Ctr Scott A. Gruber, M.D., Ph.D., MBA; Chief of Staff Belinda Brown-Tezera, MSN, MBA, FNP-BC; Associate Director of Patient Care Services and Nurse Executive


Mackinac Straits Health System Susan Strich, MD, Chief of Staff Mary Kaye Ruegg, Chief Nursing Officer


McLaren Health Care Michael McKenna, MD, Chief Medical Officer


Metro Health-University of Michigan Health Ronald G. Grifka, MD, FAAP, FACC, FSCAI, Chief Medical Officer Steven Polega, MHA, BSN, RN, NEA-BC, Chief Nursing Officer


MidMichigan Health Lydia A. Watson, MD, CPE, SVP, Chief Medical Officer Tammy Terrell, MSN, RN, VP, Chief Nursing Officer


Munson Healthcare Christine Nefcy, MD, Chief Medical Officer Joseph Santangelo, MD, Chief Quality & Safety Officer


OSF HealthCare St. Francis Hospital & Medical Group William Hook, MD, Director, Medical Services Lacey Crabb, Vice President, Patient Care Services and Chief Nursing Officer


ProMedica Health Kent Bishop MD, FACOG,CPE, President ProMedica Physicians, Chief Medical Officer Deana Sievert, Chief Nursing Officer for Acute Care, Ambulatory & Providers


Sparrow Health System Karen Kent VanGorder, MD, SVP/Chief Medical & Quality Officer Amy Brown, MSN, Chief Nursing Officer


Spectrum Health Joshua Kooistra, DO, SVP, Chief Medical Officer Shawn Ulreich, DSc, MSN, RN, SVP Clinical Operations, Chief Nursing Executive


Trinity Health Michigan Rosalie Tocco-Bradley, PhD, MD, Chief Clinical Officer Doug R. Dascenzo, DNP, RN, CENP, Regional Chief Nursing Officer


University of Michigan Health Jeffrey S. Desmond, MD, Chief Medical Officer Nancy May, DNP, Chief Nurse Executive


VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System Mark S. Hausman, Jr., MD, Chief of Staff Lisa Keel, MSN, RN, Interim Nurse Executive


Lisa Barry: [00:00:00] The message to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus has been repeated over and over for months now. This is Lisa Barry, and our physicians and nurse leaders from 21 hospital systems across Michigan are adding their voices to that message, including at Michigan Medicine. Joining us now to talk about that is Dr. Jeff Desmond, chief medical officer for Michigan Medicine. Thanks so much for talking to us.

Dr. Jeff Desmond: [00:00:24] Happy to be here. Thank you.

Lisa Barry: [00:00:26] I understand you've signed a letter along with 20 other, as I said, hospital systems across the state a letter urging people to get vaccinated. Can you tell us about that?

Dr. Jeff Desmond: [00:00:35] Yes, we did. Well, I think the chief medical officers and chief nursing officers for the health systems and hospitals are in a unique position to see the impact that COVID has--and particularly the Delta variant now--has on our patients, on our health systems, and on our communities. And we know that the vaccine is safe and effective in preventing severe disease and hospitalization and death and feel it's very important that people understand the safety of that and that we promote vaccination in order to protect our patients, to keep our health systems functioning, and to protect our communities.

Lisa Barry: [00:01:16] So what can you tell us to help people understand that it is in their best interest to get vaccinated?

Dr. Jeff Desmond: [00:01:23] So, we know that the the Pfizer vaccine is fully FDA approved for those that are 16 and older. So, we were operating under emergency use authorization, but that's an approved vaccine. We know the data around the other vaccines to show that they're safe and effective. And it's the most effective way to confer immunity and to protect people from COVID. I think it's important for people to understand that we've been through several waves of this infection now. And the demand that additional disease puts on the health system puts everybody at risk. So, everything that we can do to keep people safe, the most important thing we can do, is to have them get vaccinated.

Lisa Barry: [00:02:08] I see the letter uses words of some emotion like "urgency," "compassion," and "responsibility." Do you think that might help people hear that message more clearly?

Dr. Jeff Desmond: [00:02:18] Well, I think there's a lot of information around vaccines, and people get information from a variety of places. And one of the things that we wanted to stress in that letter is that if you trust your health care providers in your health systems to get information and to have care when you're in an emergency or you have other medical conditions, please trust us in our recommendations for the vaccine because we know that the vaccine is safe and effective. So, I think we tried to appeal to people's level of concern. I think what we want to do is we want to make sure that people understand the impact that COVID and the Delta variant is having.

Lisa Barry: [00:02:58] And the letter also includes some facts that says, nationally, approximately 99 percent of individuals dying from COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Do you think people are hearing that message?

Dr. Jeff Desmond: [00:03:10] Well, I hope people are hearing that message, because that is one of the things that I think most difficult for the health care providers, because those are preventable deaths. We know that the vaccine is safe and effective. It's particularly effective in preventing severe disease, as I said, hospitalization and death. So that information in the letter is accurate. And it's an important thing for people to understand. It's hard for our frontline workers, who come to work every day, to see preventable death after preventable death. And when we know that there's something as available, as safe, and as easy to do is get a vaccine that could prevent deaths. I think that's an important message for people to understand.

Lisa Barry: [00:03:54] Right. The letter says, "Our health care workers who've been on the front lines of this pandemic for 18 months are disheartened and frustrated to see so many unvaccinated individuals admitted to our hospitals and dying from serious complications of COVID-19 infection." So that seems like you're trying to make that connection between the caregivers and the people who are not vaccinated that, look, there are some real human not just your health and your mortality, but some human ramifications of not being vaccinated.

Dr. Jeff Desmond: [00:04:24] Yes, absolutely. And the toll that that has taken in terms of fatigue and burnout for our frontline health care workers, who, I say, have been phenomenal in their response, both in our health system and I know across other hospitals and health systems. Our health care systems have stepped up. They have, I think, gone beyond what we can expect of them in order to respond to these serious waves of the COVID pandemic. But it is hard, and it's trying, and it is fatiguing. And I think the other important aspect of this is it's now, you know, competing with non-COVID care. And so, you know, we need functioning health systems that have healthy and employees that can take care of people when they come in for a heart attack or a stroke or they have other even scheduled health care needs. And so, it's really important to understand the impact of this and to keep our health systems functioning.

Lisa Barry: [00:05:25] Bottom line in this letter is get vaccinated before it's too late.

Dr. Jeff Desmond: [00:05:30] Yes. So, I think the strongest thing that we can do is encourage people to get vaccinated. I think getting information from accurate and trusted sources is also very important. As I said, there's a lot of information about the vaccine. Some may be more accurate than others, but we know that the vaccine is safe. It's effective. It's easy to get. It's out there. And so, we encourage people to get vaccinated.

Lisa Barry: [00:05:53] Dr. Jeff Desmond, chief medical officer for Michigan Medicine, thanks for talking to us here on WEMU.

Dr. Jeff Desmond: [00:05:58] Thank you very much. 

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
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